Monday, June 08, 2015

Ireland U20s-24 Scotland U20s-20

I’m trying to remember back 20 years - was there a baby-naming trend whereby parents wanted to give their sons a name you’d swear had to be that of a Hollywood A-list actor?

The Ireland Under-20s certainly has a few scattered throughout the squad - Garry Ringrose, Jacob Stockdale, Charlie Rock, Billy Dardis, Zack McCall are all strong names.  But we sure ain’t got nothing on the young Scots.

Zander Fagerson and Magnus Bradbury are two that jump off their teamsheet for starters, but then you come to the best of the lot….Blair Kinghorn.  I’m telling you - if that chap isn’t playing James Bond by the time he’s 40 I’ll eat my hat (he said, presuming of course that nobody will actually hold him to it come the year 2035, while still researching edible hats just in case).

OK that opening was just a bit of fun...I could go on but these World Under 20s championships are a serious business, given lot of these names are ones we’ll be getting to know over the next few seasons as they break through at Pro12, European and even test level.

And you can be absolutely sure that nobody is taking it more seriously than the coaches; in Ireland’s case that means Nigel Carolan.  Well used to dealing with players at this level from his role as Connacht Academy Manager, he’ll know exactly how to set the standards.  Sure, they’re only finding their feet at pro level and mistakes are going to be made, but it’s important that those mistakes be pointed out to them now to make them as ready as possible when they take to the senior stage.

I feel it’s very important for this writeup that I point out the need to acknowledge mistakes made at this level, for you can be sure that despite the victory which gives us two out of two in this World Championship campaign, Carolan will have plenty of material to show his charges in the DVD sessions.

One number that stands out on the stats page is 29 for missed tackles, and all of the starting XV were “credited” with at least one.  Then in the second half in particular we found it almost impossible to get our lineout throws straight, being pinged on three occasions and lucky it wasn’t more.  

Another error-strewn part of our game was that of knock ons.  Eight overall that I could count, including one by prop Andrew Porter right before the interval where he had the tryline at his mercy and a 5-pointer at that stage, which would have been our third, would more than likely have both killed the match and in turn led to a crucial bonus point.

Of course I don’t want to be too harsh about the mistakes made...these are youngsters after all, plus there’s the short turnaround between fixtures in this annual tournament, and to top it all there was the 30+ degree Calvisano heat providing the need for water/sun-brolly breaks between quarters.

Still, ball retention is absolutely key to the modern game and for me there’s only one thing that can soften the blow of your team knocking the ball as many as eight times, and that’s your opposition doing it more than eight times.  Thankfully for us, the Scots obliged with a coach’s-head-melting TWELVE knock ons (note - I counted ones that brought an end to their own penalty advantage).

Now to be fair to Sean Lineen’s young Scots they were not only battling the conditions but also the drubbing to the Baby Blacks on matchday 1 which had to be a major body-blow to their confidence.

But having said that, as their coach looks back over this one it’s not hard to look at the final losing margin of just four points and ask himself had his players been able to hold on to the ball would victory been theirs.  In the lead photo you see probably their most costly knock on as Ruairidh Knott was denied by Sam Arnold at the last possible moment - at least that was a forced error but there were several occasions when the ball was put down in straightforward situations.

OK that’s enough about the negative...for now, anyway.  The 2015 vintage of the Irish Under 20s has featured a backline which at times have played like world beaters, particularly at first phase ball of set pieces, and this match was no exception.  

Sam Arnold and Garry Ringrose seem to have an understanding that may well have me researching this piece for an full Ireland test writeup five or more years down the line, and they are certainly well backed up with McCarthy and Carbery at halfback and the back three with the likes of Stephen Fitzgerald and Billy Dardis, who actually got the put down for our first try, fittingly off a scrum that resulted from a knock on.

Dardis was also key in our second, doing well to stay in play out on the wing after another flowing move and moments later flanker Conor Oliver was stopped before the line but not probably tackled and was able to get over the line.

As I said earlier, a third before the break would surely have finished things off, but despite the Scots resuming the knockons virtually from the start of the second half and a Carbery penalty stretching our lead to 15, we didn’t seem able to put the match away and I think we have to consider ourselves lucky a losing bonus point is all the Scots were able to peg back.

We also can't merely blame the Scots errors for their woes in the second half - our jackling was top notch, with Oliver and Porter doing well to force "holding" penalties in defensive situations.

I felt Aussie ref Will Houston was a bit too reluctant to exert discipline….we shipped a few penalties in the opening exchanges and perhaps at senior level the warning/card would have been issued sooner, plus the Scots captain Jamie Ritchie was a very lucky boy with a high tackle here and a spoiled attacking breakdown there. Eventually he put Oliver in the bin towards the end but I got the impression he would have preferred not to be informed of the player's number!

Perhaps when we won a penalty with an 8-point lead on 76:22 we could have gone for a 3rd try to provide at least the hope of snatching a 4th but in the end we took the safe three points to eat some clock and despite Knott finally getting a try for himself and Kinghorne converting at the death, victory was somehow ours in what was a very curious encounter indeed.

Where does this leave the Wolfpuppies now in the tournament?  Well if our goal is to reach the semifinals, then our task is, er, simple...we only have to go and beat the young New Zealanders.  With no bonus points from our two matches all hope of qualifying as best runner-up would seem to be gone.  Still - the Argentinians ran the Baby Blacks pretty close on Saturday so all hope may not be lost for our lads.

The fact remains however that to triumph for a third time in this competition we will need to improve that facet of rugby on which Joe Schmidt tends to harp the most - “ehkrissy” (accuracy).  I get the feeling this squad of players is due one wonder performance soon and Wednesday would certainly be the ideal time to produce it.

One thing’s for sure - winning this pool from here would go a long way towards make these lads' names well known in wider rugby circles!!! JLP

Next week our Monday match writeup will feature the Top 14 final between Clérmont and Stade Francais.


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019