Ireland Under-20s can call upon a physically imposing pack in 2016
Nigel Carolan says last year’s talisman Garry Ringrose needs to be given time to develop
Conan O’Donnell, Adam McBurney, James Ryan and Paul Kiernan at the Ireland Under-20 squad announcement. Photograph: Inpho
Nigel Carolan appreciates the cyclical nature of age-grade rugby as in choosing 26 new faces to complement the four returning players from last season for the Ireland squad for the Under-20 Six Nations Championship.
Props Andrew Porter and Conan O’Donnell, hooker Adam McBurney and wing Jacob Stockdale played in last season’s campaign that began so brightly but subsequently petered out and was then followed by a disappointing World Under-20 Championship.
Unlike last season, Carolan can call upon a physically imposing pack, under the captaincy of James Ryan, whose progression from outstanding schoolboy prospect has taken in playing first team rugby for Lansdowne, winning a first start for Leinster A and now leading the national side at three different age-grades.
The six foot seven inch, secondrow, is part of a very big tight five whose vital statistics might reasonably eclipse those of the senior national team, with two of the four props weighing in at 125kg and the 135kg respectively. Last season the squad possessed a brilliant backline but lacked the depth of forward resources to sustain the challenge through the Six Nations.
Johnston’s injury, and a decision to look at Jimmy O’Brien as a centre, means that two players who played most of their schools/club rugby at fullback, Johnny McPhillips, formerly of Sedbergh school in England now the Ulster academy, and Newcastle Falcons’ Brett Connon will be competing for the number 10 jersey.
Munster captain Paul Kiernan – the province won the Under-20 interprovincial championship – is a son of former international Michael, and will be favourite to win a starting role in the centre while there is plenty of pace in the back three including another son of a former international, Terry Kennedy; named after his father and the scorer of six tries in a recent warm-up match for the national side.
Carolan admitted that while frustration was the overriding emotion after last season, his modus operandi hasn’t changed. “My philosophy is about trying to empower players. The way we train and how we play is what I would describe as organised but because we are trying to play with tempo and high intensity players have to organise themselves and read where the space is.
“We are not a patterned team. We don’t have designated space to attack so it is up to the players to recognise that and try to exploit it. That’s how we train. Sometimes it works and when it does it’s good. When it doesn’t it is maybe (down to) accuracy, skill under pressure. That’s the environment they will experience coming through.”
During the course of a wide-ranging conversation the Galway native also spoke about a protégé from last season, Garry Ringrose. “I think Ireland have been looking for a bit of x-factor in the backs and Garry is that. It’s about trying to manage the longevity of his career as well and he’s only had a handful of games at pro level.
“It’s important that he continues to develop. He’s one that maybe after the Six Nations or at the back end of it, if he got a taste, it would bring the guy on.
“We’re trying to create that environment so that the players can achieve whatever they want to achieve. I think a lot of them have gotten pro exposure on the back of last year and it’s not because of the 20s, they’re on a pathway.
“It’s not the reason Garry Ringrose could be playing for the national side. He’s on the pathway himself to become a professional rugby player and an international rugby player. As long as this environment adds value to that, it’s worthwhile.
Ireland Under-20s squad: Forwards – J Bollard (Dublin University/Leinster), K Browne (Shannon/Munster), P Claffey (Galwegians/Connacht), W Connors (UCD/Leinster), M Deegan (Lansdowne/Leinster), S Fenton (Young Munster/Munster), J Foley (Shannon/Munster), C Gallagher (Sligo/Connacht), G Jones (UCD/Leinster), C Kenny (Buccaneers/Connacht), A McBurney (Ballymena/Ulster), S O’Connor (Cashel/Munster), C O’Donnell (Sligo/Connacht), A Porter (UCD/Leinster), J Ryan (Lansdowne/Leinster, capt), D Walsh (Cork Constitution/Munster). Backs – M Byrne (Terenure/Leinster), B Connon (Newcastle Falcons/Exiles), S Daly (Cork Constitution/Munster), H Keenan (UCD/Leinster), T Kennedy (St Mary’s/Leinster), P Kiernan (UCC/Munster), R Lyttle (QUB/Ulster), J McPhillips (QUB/Ulster), C O’Brien (Clontarf/Leinster), J O’Brien (UCD/Leinster), J Poland (Cork Constitution/Munster), J Power (UCD/Leinster), J Stockdale (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster).
Fixtures Under-20 Six Nations
Friday, February 5th: Ireland v Wales, Donnybrook (7.35).
Friday, February 12th: France v Ireland, Narbonne (8.05, Irish time).
Friday, February 26th: England v Ireland, Kinston Park, Newcastle (6.05)
Friday, March 11th: Ireland v Italy, Donnybrook (7.35)
Friday, March 18th: Ireland v Scotland, Donnybrook (7.35)