New Zealand celebrate another U20 Junior World Championship win.

Ireland U20’s finished the tournament in 8th place after going into the tournament with realistic expectations of a top 6 finish. It was a disappointing end to the tournament but overall I would regard this tournament as a success for the Ireland team who have gained invaluable experience in the high pressure and big hitting world of international rugby.

The key concern before the tournament was how the scrum was going to cope with the English and South African packs, so the scrum has to be the real bonus for Ireland with Furlong, Annett and Tracy superb throughout, even if they were out on their feet by the end of the tournament. Excellent technique displayed throughout by the young front row.

The backs looked useful when they got the ball on the front foot with Andrew Conway achieving a remarkable 10 tries over the two tournaments he’s appeared in. He is now top of the all time try scorers for this competition alongside New Zealand’s Zac Guildford but if you consider that Ireland have only won 30% of their games in Conway’s two tournaments and New Zealand have won 100% then Conway’s feat appears even more remarkable.

So, where did it go wrong for Ireland?

First up they were unlucky with the draw – placed with two such physical opponents in South Africa and England and playing them back to back in the first two games took a lot out of the team and with a kinder Pool they could have went further.

They did have their chances to upset the odds against both England and South Africa, probably the 2nd and 3rd best teams in the competition. The Irish lads fancied their chances and they went for it in both games, much to their detriment in the closing fixtures, but at the end of they day they slipped off too many first up tackles and forced too many passes under pressure and these were the main differences between Ireland and their opponents in the higher ranks.

Initial issues with the lineout also cost Ireland in those crucial fixtures, it was corrected as the tournament went on, and this definitely made things more difficult, but time and again Ireland’s issues stemmed from the speed of thought and reaction in open play with the Irish lads just that millisecond behind the top sides.

While Ireland can work on scrums and lineouts on the training paddock, and by the end of they tournament they were forces to be reckoned with in both, what they can’t do is recreate the intensity of these games on a regular basis for the youngsters.

The games against England and South Africa were as full blooded and intense as any Heineken Cup encounter and were played at a fantastic pace. This isn’t just a step up from Schools rugby, it’s a whole new world, and the Irish lads can only benefit from being exposed to competitions like this. They now know what they have to do to compete and thankfully they are not that far off.

The invaluable benefit of this tournament makes it all the stranger to me that the IRFU are considering withdrawing Ireland from next years tournament in South Africa. I tried to follow up on this when I was over in Italy but found everyone very guarded on the subject.

The PR being put out points to player welfare being the key concern and there can be no doubt that this is a gruelling tournament with five games in 16 days but there are enough experienced staff to look after the players. At the end of the day the benefits from the standard of rugby they are exposed to far outweighs the concerns.

It appears to be the Provinces that are pushing for the withdrawal of the team with player availability at the start of the season put forward as the justification. Short sighted in my opinion as this is a big step up from a couple of Rabodirect, B & I Cup or U20 Interpro games that the bulk of the players would be involved in.

This is a tournament in a lifetime for a lot of these youngsters, future generations shouldn’t be denied the experience.

3 Comments

  1. If 60% of this years squad make professional rugby it is very unlikely that 60% of the next squad will if you get the drift .

    The leinster squad and match day XV has been relatively static for three years Munster have a similiar record

    Iin a normal season only 4-5-6 players out of the 35-40 in a squad are released at u20 level there are a large number who don’t get squad contracts

    But it is necessary to have fairly large numbers at U18 -u19 u20 levels to identify those who will make the grade and develop as players because school rugby can be a misleading indicator due to the varying rates of maturity ie some schoolboys look about 20 years old and are playing against others who look about 16 and therefore good but when faced with a player of a similiar maturity his performance is nothing special.

  2. While experienced is gained and I’m sure the lads enjoy the social aspects of the tournament as well, the truth is that of the 30 odd who make the trip only ,on average , about 5 maybe 6 make it through to the professional game . The other factor is that while Ireland can put together a team to play an International game at this age level it is more difficult to maintain a squad to compete in a tournament and play 5 or 6 matches in 2/3 weeks.

    The other factor is the timing of the tournament many of the players are at University and will have to take work to pay for their education which reduces the time available for training both individually and as a group never mind the fact that their exams could be at the same time as the tournament.

    The realities of life make dreams hard to realise.

    • You’re living in the past mote!

      Eight or nine of the Ireland squad have already played Magners League (as was) and I’d recon at least 60% will make it to professional status either in Ireland or elsewhere over the next three years with 6 or 7 going all the way as long term internationals.

      Believe you me there is not much of a social aspect with 5 games in 16 days it’s game, recover, training, game for these young professional sportsmen.

      The Irish lads did very well in my opinion, sure they had a few problems with their reaction times compared to the very best, but they are not that far off the pace and they need high calibre games like this.

      Watching these young athletes up close gives a better appreciation of the standard and these matches were as fast and as keenly fought as any Heineken Cup game that Ulster have been involved in over the last 12 years, the only thing lacking is the brute strength that comes with age.

      University has little or no impact on training as the modern rugby player fits his studies round his training schedule, not the other way round and all with the full blessing of the University. The main reason that this Ireland side didn’t get together as often as it should have is because so many of the Ulster and Leinster players were involved in Magners League squads.