McNamara’s band of brothers take all the credit after Grand Slam success
Coach praises young Ireland players’ resilience after things went against them
Ireland fan Jennifer Malone celebrates with the players after the victory over Wales secured the Grand Slam in the Under-20 Six Nations in Colwyn Bay. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Noel McNamara exhaled, the shadow of a smile crossing his face as he watched Ireland captain Charlie Ryan accept the Under-20 Six Nations Championship trophy, the players soon disappearing under a bubbly cloud of champagne.
Ireland had already won the title before Friday night’s 26-17 victory over Wales in Colwyn Bay but the final item on the agenda was a Grand Slam, which they managed, emulating the class of 2007. It wasn’t their best performance but no one will care unduly. They got the result, which at times seemed something they would be cruelly denied.
But this young group have shown a remarkable resilience throughout the tournament and they needed every inch of both that obduracy and self belief to not only survive but come out the far side. When asked for an overview McNamara shrugged: “It was a difficult game to sum up, to be honest about it.
“We just weren’t accurate in that first half, particularly around how we managed the game. We didn’t exit well, gave them ‘ins’ into the game. We defended resolutely throughout and I thought we put ourselves into a really good position just after half-time.
“Obviously another loose exit and Ryan Conbeer is a very good player. He has been playing at this level for three years and he punished us.”
The game’s defining moment was provided by Buccaneers scrumhalf Colm Reilly, called into the replacements after Craig Casey cried off and Cormac Foley was promoted to the starting team. On 71 minutes and with Ireland trailing 17-14 Reilly spotted a gap at a ruck, scampered clear and then showed great pace on an arcing run to the tryline.
McNamara admitted: “You have to say, the resolve they showed at the end, I think Colm and Jake [Flannery] deserve particular praise for how they went at 9 and 10. They really upped the tempo of the game.
“That was when we started to dictate the pace. The reality was they were dictating the tempo up until that point. Wales struggled to deal with it from then on.”
Ireland were denied tries on three occasions by the television match official and the little gremlins with their patterns, particularly in the first half, could have drained their confidence.
The Irish coach explained: “The TMO decisions were very fine margins to be honest about it, all of them. They could have gone either way, and another team, it might have got to them.
“The reality is with this group that their ability to refocus, their ability to stay in the blue, focus on the job in hand is absolutely first class. That was really evident and certainly called upon. Particularly that [disallowed] try for Jonathan Wren; it was a very marginal, very late TMO call and we conceded shortly after that.
“I think it was a testament to how they train, the resolve within the group, sticking to their process and believing. There was never a second in that game that they didn’t believe they were going to win.”
So what does it mean for the group?
“A hell of a lot of people have worked very hard, not least the players but there is a big management team attached to this team and it was a just reward for them; from the medics – our injury profile has been very good all through the campaign – how the players have been managed especially the work of the strength and conditioning lads. They deserve a lot of praise but it’s predominantly the players.”