Under-20 World Championship: Free from weight of expectation, young stars can let their light shine
Experienced players will be key to game plan, says Ireland Under-20s coach Nigel Carolan
Nigel Carolan: “The World Cup is essentially five games in three weeks whereas during the Six Nations we had five games over two months. It’s very condensed, very intense.” Photograph: James Crombie/INPHO
Stripped bare of expectation Ireland begin their Under-20 World Championship campaign against Argentina next Tuesday afternoon in Parma fuelled not by a desire to expunge the disappointment of the Six Nations but to properly represent the talent within the group.
Three consecutive defeats in the Six Nations obliterated the momentum generated by victories over Italy and in particular, France, where the brio of their back play, quickened the pulse. Irish coach Nigel Carolan admitted: “The level of expectation was high after the first couple of games in the Six Nations but as a group, we didn’t deliver upon those expectations.
“It was really quite difficult to put your finger exactly on the reason. We emptied the tank in the England game. We came up short having created so many opportunities.
“Against Wales, it was just bizarre. We started very poorly and never really got into the game and from there Wales outmuscled us. When we went to a different type of game, we didn’t execute it very well. We learned from the first two games that things worked, things happened and the small things clicked. In the games when we were up against it, we just didn’t front up.
“Our tight five came under scrutiny in terms of their physical stakes but when you look our stats overall, our scrum and our lineout were good (a combined 82 per cent success rate). But the quality of ball that we were able to deliver from that is the key area that we fell down on.”
It’s a fair appraisal. Despite the shortcomings in performance, Ireland lost to England (19-14), Wales (19-12) and Scotland (17-10) by a single score. The post tournament analysis revealed obvious areas for improvement; concentration at scrum time, a quicker tempo and decision making process at the lineout, greater physical presence at the breakdown and arguably the most important, better technique and execution in the tackle.
Ireland were brittle in the collisions defensively, occasionally slow to realign and dominated physically, where the opposition ball carrier required more than one Irish player to bring him to ground. They don’t need to be making dominant tackles but they do need to avoid giving up soft gain-lines.
The loss of Ross Byrne is a blow and that’s neither a reflection on his likely deputy, the talented Joey Carberry, nor Munster’s Tomas Quinlan who has been added to the squad. Byrne has been Ireland’s outhalf for two seasons, is a hugely influential figure and a player of great ability, who brings authority and structure to the team’s game management.
A post Six Nations trial match in which Carolan and his coaching team looked at “the next best” players in the depth chart prompted some selection debate but only Old Belvedere scrumhalf Charlie Rock made the leap to the squad that travelled to Italy on Thursday. Ireland played a warm-up game against France in Paris during which all 28 players received at least 40 minutes.
They have seven players with World Championship experience, something which Carolan feels will be important. “The World Cup is essentially five games in three weeks whereas during the Six Nations we had five games over two months. It’s very condensed, very intense.
“There’s very little training time on the pitch between games so it’s important that we’re very specific in what we do and what we need to achieve. We’re going to rely on those players that have that experience to be able to carry out the game plan that we put in place.
“We found that in the Six Nations, we can’t coach everything. We can’t coach all aspects of the technical detail that might be required. Certainly in the areas that we’re falling down on; there are small margins. There are a lot of handling errors, missed tackles but we don’t have the time to work on that. There’s an expectation on players who are at a certain level.”
One player who is intimately acquainted the demands imposed by the fixture schedule is centre, Garry Ringrose. Shortlisted for the Under-20 world player of the year after last year’s event, he explained: “It is difficult with the five games being squeezed into three weeks so it is kind of challenging. We (the seven returning players) will know the ropes and that will help off the pitch because it is a four-day turnaround.
“You have to take care of yourself so you are in the best possible position going out to play the 80 minutes. It’s more about video analysis. You’re not really getting around much. It’s more about rest than anything.
“We started well in the Six Nations and we’re just going to try and repeat something like that looking towards Argentina. It is an exciting back line and we have all played with each other now consistently and trained with each other so there are no excuses really. I have no doubt that the forwards will provide a lot of quick ball for us so we will have to live up to the hype.”
The last sentiment encapsulates Ireland’s prospects. If the pack – they’re very athletic, mobile with good skill sets - can sort out the set piece and breakdown and compete physically then the backline is capable of ripping teams apart.
Ireland won’t have the luxury of resting too many players, so they’ll need good fortune when it comes to injuries. If they edge past Argentina, then despite losing to Scotland in the Six Nations, they are eminently capable of reversing that result.
Bonus points will be crucial if they are to replicate last year’s historic achievement in reaching the semi-finals for the first time, because beating New Zealand, who won a four cornered southern hemisphere tournament in the build-up, may be beyond them.
If Ireland can compete physically, tighten up their defence and be accurate in execution then there is no ceiling for this talented group.
IRELAND SQUAD: Sam Arnold (Ballynahinch), Joey Carbery (UCD), Fergal Cleary (Lansdowne), Billy Dardis (UCD), Lorcan Dow (QUB), Jack Dwan (UCD), Stephen Fitzgerald (Shannon), Ciarán Gaffney (Galwegians), Oisín Heffernan (Terenure), Jeremy Loughman (UCD), Zack McCall (QUB), Nick McCarthy (UCD), Seán McNulty (UCD), Stephen McVeigh (Buccaneers), Rory Moloney (Connacht), Josh Murphy (UCD), Conán O’Donnell (Sligo/NUIG), David O’Connor (St Mary’s), Conor Oliver (St Mary’s), Jack Owens (QUB), Andrew Porter (UCD),Tomás Quinlan (Cork Constitution)*, Garry Ringrose (UCD), Charlie Rock (Old Belvedere)*, Cian Romaine (Buccaneers), Jacob Stockdale (QUB), Alex Thompson (QUB), Nick Timoney (St Mary’s) * Uncapped player at Under-20 level.
Pool A: England, France, Wales, Japan Pool B: South Africa, Australia, Samoa, Italy Pool C: New Zealand, Ireland, Argentina, Scotland
Ireland Fixtures Tuesday, June 2nd: Ireland v Argentina, Parma, (3.30, Irish time); Saturday, June 6th: Ireland v Scotland, Calvisano, (3.30, Irish time); Wednesday June 10th: Ireland v New Zealand, Viadana (7.30pm, Irish time); Monday, June 15th: Match Day 4, play-offs and semi-finals. Saturday, June 20th: Match day 5: Play-offs and final.
How it works: The top teams in each of the three pools qualify for the semi-finals along with the best runner-up across the three pools. If one or more second placed teams finish level on points then the winner of the match in which the two tied teams will go through. It then goes to the team with the best points for and against, then tries scored for and against, then most points scored, then most tries scored.
There are four points for a win, two for a draw and the try and losing bonus point system is in place.The remaining eight teams will fight for places from fifth to 12th over the remaining two match days. The team that finishes in 12th place will be relegated and play in the World Championship Trophy, a second tier competition. Georgia won that tournament this year and will play in the 2016 World Championship.
Television: Ireland’s matches will be broadcast live on TG4 while BT Sport will also have live coverage of the tournament but not all of the Irish matches.