U20 Six Nations could mark the beginning of new rugby dynasties

Ireland’s injury woes and lack of game time could pose a challenge in the tournament

James Humphreys of Ireland at the IRFU High Performance Centre, Sport Ireland Campus, Blanchardstown, Dublin. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/©Inpho

James Humphreys of Ireland at the IRFU High Performance Centre, Sport Ireland Campus, Blanchardstown, Dublin. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/©Inpho

 

Stuart Lancaster, Gregor Townsend, Trevor Brennan, David Humphreys, Émile Ntamack, Bryan Redpath, and Zinzan Brooke are just some of the famous former rugby internationals who will be taking a paternal interest in the truest sense of the phrase in the upcoming U20 Six Nations championship.

The tournament, which runs over five rounds of matches, begins in Cardiff today with the defending champions Ireland taking on Scotland. The three games per match day are run sequentially, all taking place on the artificial surface at the Arms Park.

It’s apposite on the weekend in question to highlight several famous fathers who will be hoping that their respective sons can play pivotal roles across the three matches scheduled for today. James Humphreys will wear the number 10 jersey that his father, David, wore with distinction for Ireland and also in guiding Ulster to a European Cup triumph in 1999.

The Scotland squad Ireland will face contains the number nine Murray Redpath – a son of former scrumhalf Bryan and brother of current international Cameron – as well as outhalf Christian Townsend, a son of Scotland head coach and Lions assistant Gregor, and Alex Clayton, whose father is two-time Olympic decathlon champion Daley Thompson.

France’s Joshua Brennan with fans at last year’s U20 Six Nations. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/©Inpho
France’s Joshua Brennan with fans at last year’s U20 Six Nations. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/©Inpho

Secondrow Joshua Brennan will captain France in the tournament, following in the footsteps of older brother Daniel, an U20 World Cup winner. They are sons of Barnhall’s finest, the former Bective Rangers, St Mary’s College, Leinster, Toulouse and Ireland flanker/secondrow Trevor and his wife Paula.

Flanker Théo Ntamack and outhalf Edgar Retière are respective younger brothers of current French internationals Romain and Arthur. France will take on an England squad that contains the Leeds Tykes’ pivot Dan Lancaster, who can play outhalf and centre and is a son of current Leinster senior coach and former England head coach Stuart.

Lancaster snr opted to play for Scotland as an underage international, the birthplace of his mother. The English group also contains London Irish’s Lucas Brooke, a son of former All Black number eight Zinzan.

Final match

The final match on the opening day will be contested by tournament hosts WalesDan John is the son of former international Paul, while Carwyn Tuipulotu is a cousin of Wales number eight Taulupe Faletau – who take on Italy, who include in their number Alessandro Garbisi and Lorenzo Cannone, younger brothers of senior internationals Paolo and Niccolo.

Richie Murphy takes over as Ireland head coach from Noel McNamara – Kieran Campbell was appointed as coach in between but left to take up a position at Ealing Trailfinders without presiding over a game – and faces quite a tough challenge to emulate his predecessor. Under McNamara, Ireland won a Grand Slam in 2019 and had three straight victories (over Scotland, Wales and England) when last year’s Six Nations was abandoned due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Former Munster and Ireland number eight Denis Leamy, now an elite development officer with Leinster rugby, has joined the Irish U20s coaching team alongside Murphy and Cullie Tucker, who has been promoted to assistant coach under Andy Friend at Connacht next season.

Injuries have not been kind to Ireland in the run-up to the tournament. Three players, scrumhalf Ben Murphy, hooker Tom Stewart and secondrow Joe McCarthy, who played in all three matches last year would have been earmarked for prominent roles in this campaign but won’t play any part due to injury.

Cork’s Cian Whooley would probably have been the first-choice outhalf, but he too is sidelined, along with former St Michael’s hooker Lee Barron. The Ireland squad is both young and lacking size in the secondrow – Harry Sheridan and Mark Morrissey are listed at 6ft 4in, while only Darragh Murray, younger brother of Connacht’s Niall, is taller – which may stress the setpiece somewhat.

McCarthy is a huge loss in every respect, while Stewart’s skills as a player would also have added emphatically to the team dynamic.

Depth of quality

It’s far from all gloom and doom, however. There is a significant depth of quality to the three-quarter-line resources, as evidenced by the fact that Chris Cosgrave, Conor Rankin and Ben Carson don’t make the starting team.

Munster’s Alex Kendellen is an outstanding prospect; Alex Soroka has already underlined his ability with the Leinster senior team, while Connacht’s Oisin McCormack is highly rated. Sam Illo, Temi Lasisi and Daniel Okeke can all carry with purpose and athleticism.

The lack of game time over the past 15 months during the pandemic is an issue for all the teams, but from an Irish perspective the absence could be fundamentally debilitating. Irish teams have always faced a physical discrepancy, but often manage to overcome those handicaps with cohesion tempered by the heat of playing AIL matches.

Training camps and warm-up games can’t replicate that intensity. The way the matches fall makes it possible for Ireland to build into the tournament, but that’s all predicated on a winning start. Expectations should be modest; at least for now.

Ireland fixtures
Saturday, June 19th: Ireland v Scotland, Cardiff (2.0)
Friday, June 25th: Wales v Ireland, Cardiff (8.0)
Thursday, July 1st: Ireland v England, Cardiff (8.0)
Wednesday, July 7th: Italy v Ireland, Cardiff (2.0)
Tuesday, July 13th: Ireland v France, Cardiff (4.45)  

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