Thursday 24 October 2019

McNamara backs Ireland U-20s to cope with injuries to key players

Ireland U20 head coach Noel McNamara. Photo: ©INPHO
Ireland U20 head coach Noel McNamara. Photo: ©INPHO
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Having lost their captain David Hawkshaw to injury during the Six Nations, if the Ireland U-20s were asked for another two key players whom they could ill-afford to lose ahead of next month's World Cup, Scott Penny and Harry Byrne would have been high up on that list.

As it has transpired, however, the hugely influential Leinster pair will miss the tournament in Argentina.

Penny was one of the stand-out players in the Grand Slam win and the flanker's abrasiveness in a tough pool that includes England, Australia and Italy will be missed as he recovers from a shoulder problem.

Byrne, an electric out-half, missed the tail end of the Six Nations due to a hip issue and hasn't played since.

With players this young who are destined for the professional game, head coach Noel McNamara is understandably not taking any chances. "Listen, that's part of sport unfortunately," McNamara conceded.

"The reality is that part of this process is so that guys can go on and contribute to provincial and international rugby and, in fairness to Scott and Harry, they have done that.

"Obviously the initial reaction is that it is disappointing for them because it is an opportunity on a big stage to show what they can do. Then you look at the opportunity it will be for someone else.


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"It has been about the collective and not one individual. While we recognise the importance of certain players, I think there are players there who will step up."

Lock Charlie Ryan continues as captain in Hawkshaw's absence as he recovers from ACL surgery, while winger Conor Phillips does the same as he also misses out.

Despite the setbacks, the mood in the squad is positive. Ireland took on Leinster last weekend and will face Munster on Saturday as preparations ramp up for their World Cup opener against England on June 4.

Ireland have named a 33-strong squad that includes six uncapped players. The travelling party will be whittled down to 28 next week.

"We're in a different situation to most countries," McNamara explained. "The reality is that the priority for our players at this point in time is study. A lot of guys are doing tough courses and doing a lot of exams. We had a game last week where there was guys up studying the morning of the game because they had an exam that afternoon.

"We feel it's really important to have that balance for them and we wouldn't change that. The focus shifts when the exams finish and we can really zoom in on this World Cup.

"The Six Nations is like a middle-distance race. This is the 800m. It's still a sprint and it's a tough sprint."

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