Tuesday 25 September 2018

'With scrummaging you have to really love it' - Transition to prop paying off for French

5 March 2018; James French poses for a portrait after an Ireland Under 20 Rugby press conference at the Sandymount Hotel in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
5 March 2018; James French poses for a portrait after an Ireland Under 20 Rugby press conference at the Sandymount Hotel in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Before rugby took over, James French was an All-Ireland shot put champion, and when he got his hands on the trophy, he scanned through the list of previous winners.

It was then that it dawned on the Bandon native that Cian Healy had won the same trophy, only French had beaten the Ireland and Lions prop by 30 centimetres.

A small victory, but it is one that has inspired French to now try and replicate what Healy has done on the rugby pitch.

The loosehead is, however, playing catch-up, as he spent the majority of his early days playing in the centre, before being shifted to the back-row, and eventually the front-row.

"I played in the back-row until fifth year so I’m quite confident with the ball in my hands," French said.

"I just want to get the ball in my hands to be honest. I was in third year when Munster told me, you know, you’re not going to make it in the back row.

"I knew it was coming, to be honest. At the start I didn’t like it and it probably took me a year or two to get fond of it.

"With scrummaging you have to really love it. I do like it now but it took me a while. I want to bring a lot more than just a big scrum.

"To be fair to the rest of the lads they all have that in their game as well."

Defeat to Wales last time out dashed Ireland U-20s’ hopes of winning the Six Nations title, so from that end, it is no surprise to see Noel McNamara ring the changes.

With the Junior World Cup just three months away, that has suddenly become the main focus as Ireland look to build adequate strength in depth.

French gets his chance tomorrow against Scotland as he starts his first game of the campaign. The 19-year-old is the latest exciting talent to come out of West Cork as he follows the likes of Darren Sweetnam, Fineen Wycherley and the Coombes cousins, Liam and Gavin.

"When I went into school in first year, we (Bandon Grammar) were a 'B' school and we had a very good team," French added.

"Until fourth year, when we went ‘A’ standard. That’s when we made the breakthrough and that’s why there’s a lot of players coming through now.

"I grew up playing for Bandon but there was a bit of controversy because when I went into first year I moved to Clonakility.

"It didn’t go down well but I mainly associate myself with the school, Bandon Grammar, as I learned the majority of my stuff there."

Independent.ie's U-20s Six Nations coverage is in association with PwC

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