'We want to be the best U-20s team in the world' - Brian Gleeson sets sights on World Cup after Grand Slam
Exciting young Munster back-row played a leading role in Six Nations glory
Long after the final whistle had sounded at Musgrave Park, and the television cameras had been switched off, the Ireland U-20s players remained on the pitch, savouring the moment with family and friends.
The last one to head back to the dressing-room was Brian Gleeson, who appeared to have a big fan club in attendance.
“Seeing so many people here from Loughmore, coming down supporting me means so much, it’s great,” Gleeson said after his two-try, man-of-the-match performance in Ireland’s Grand Slam clinching win over England.
Those from the Tipperary village just outside Thurles have long been aware of Gleeson’s talent. In truth, many of the locals may have preferred if he stuck with Gaelic games rather than chase his dream of becoming a professional rugby player.
An underage hurler and footballer with Tipperary, Gleeson’s strong sporting background came to the fore over the last couple of months, as he was the standout forward in Ireland’s successful Six Nations campaign.
That’s high praise given the depth of talent in Richie Murphy’s pack, yet Gleeson consistently caught the eye with a string of excellent performances.
On the pitch, Gleeson plays like a hard-nosed veteran No 8, when he is actually still only 19, and amazingly, under age again for next year’s Ireland’s U-20s. It would be no surprise if he ends up as captain, as Ireland chase a historic third consecutive ‘Slam’.
A big, powerful unit, Gleeson is an outstanding ball-carrier, who has a very bright future ahead of him. He is fully expected to push his way up the Munster ranks, while Andy Farrell will also have been impressed by his potential.
As the old adage goes, GAA’s loss is rugby’s gain.
Gleeson, who played with Thurles RFC and went to Rockwell, has trained with Munster’s senior squad, and when you consider his back-row partner Ruadhán Quinn has already created history by becoming the province’s youngest player at 18, the future looks bright.
“Hopefully, I can put my name out there and get training more with them and put my name forward, but the back-rowers in Munster at the moment are going very well, so if I can get any bit of game-time I’ll be happy,” Gleeson maintained. “I’ve trained a good bit with them recently and even training with them makes you get better and calmer and stuff.
“And when we trained with the Irish seniors you’re more used to being with them and the pace of the game. Train with them and you improve so, so much and your fitness comes on a lot,” he added.
Opposition teams couldn’t live with the power that Gleeson and his fellow Irish forwards produced throughout the tournament.
Coming into the Six Nations, much of the talk was centred on the Ireland pack, who were the biggest the country has delivered at age-grade level, and they delivered in spades.
Like their senior counterparts, the Ireland U-20s now have their sights firmly set on the World Cup in South Africa this summer.
“The seniors are the best team in the world and we want to be the best U-20s team in the world,” Gleeson added.
“Every single game we’re improving. We’re getting more used to playing together in our systems. We’re not done yet.
“We said at the start of this, obviously the Grand Slam is what we wanted to win, but we still have the World Cup coming up, and we’re going to look towards that now. That’s where we want to get to – World Cup champions.”