“Munster have put different Regional Development squads and Cadet systems in place and the growth of the club player has been super,” O’Connor said. “Investing in coaching courses have really brought up the standard of the player in the last couple of years as they seem to be turning into quality, more skilful players.”
Munster rounded off their first club series win in 13 years with a resounding 35-17 win over Connacht at the Sportsground on Saturday afternoon. Earlier this month, they travelled north to beat Ulster by 14-9 before a comprehensive 15-3 victory over Leinster in Thomond Park the next week set them up for a grand finale.
The weekend wasn’t over for Irish underage rugby as the next day, Ireland’s U18 Sevens team- featuring Munster players Daniel Hurley, Colm Sisk and Alex Molloy- claimed the Rugby Europe U-18 Sevens Championship in Romania with an outstanding undefeated run over two days.
They blasted their way through Pool C, seeing off Moldova, Israel and Romania with ease before defeating Russia and Portugal in the quarter and semi-final respectively. This teed up a final against France, who they easily overcame 31-5.
The IRFU’s Director of Sevens Rugby Anthony Eddy hailed the efforts of his team as he now looks to integrate the young talent into the senior circuit.
“The team should be very proud of this result. All players contributed enormously and improved as the tournament went on.
“For many of the players, this was their first experience in Sevens and they acquitted themselves very well. Several players will now be invited to join the senior men’s programme and provide a pathway for these players to continue to develop.”
Following an outstanding weekend for underage rugby, O’Connor feels these experiences will give young, promising players a taste of top-flight rugby.
“It (the wins) gives everyone a lift and shows that our programmes are working. It’s great to see the Irish underage doing well and from our own point of view, Munster doing well. Those lads need to realise what it takes to play in the jersey. I think they have realised that over the last couple of weeks and they have really enjoyed it.”
“A year in a young fella’s career is massive in terms of progression and I’ve seen the progression these lads have made since December. It’s immense. It’s great for the players and the clubs. Thirteen years is a long time to go without one.”
Was an interprovincial clean sweep on the cards for O’Connor and his charges when the team first met up last December?
“We wouldn’t have looked at winning it like that, you have that in the back of your head,” O’Connor stated. “I’ve always said to the boys that we improve with every game, whatever comes with the task. We take every week as it comes, we make improvements and if winning comes with improvement then great.”
C Hayes (Young Munster RFC); I Ugwuru (Ennis RFC), J O’Connor (Tralee RFC), E O’Gorman (Young Munster RFC) (C), T Hanley (Charleville RFC); H Byrne (Garryowen FC), N O’Donoghue (Waterpark RFC); A Hennessy (Ennis RFC), D Gleeson (Garryowen FC), F Flanagan (Bruff RFC); C Murphy (Dungarvan RFC), E Murphy (Nenagh Ormond RFC); R McCormack (Fethard & District RFC), S Brosnahan (Young Munster RFC), J Hodnett (Clonakility RFC).
H Donnelly (Waterpark RFC) for Hennessy (42), P McCarthy (Bantry RFC) for Gleeson (45), R Lenihan (Sundays’s Well RFC) for Flanagan (50), S Kroupa (Nenagh Ormond RFC) for E Murphy (52), A McInerney (Young Munster RFC) for C Murphy (56), A Hehir (Shannon RFC) for O’Donoghue (60), B Daly (Waterpark RFC) for Byrne (62), J Quilter (Tralee RFC) for Hanley (65).
T O’Callaghan (Lansdowne FC); C Dunne (Tullamore RFC); W Fay (CBC Monkstown, Dublin); D Pogatchnik (Suttonians); C Dundas (Friend’s School, Lisburn); D Hurley (Crescent College Comprehensive, Limerick); A Molloy (Waterpark RFC); C Heffernan (Tullamore RFC); C Sisk (CBC Cork); T McGann (Buccaneers RFC); I Hughes (Bristol RFC, England); F Murphy (Cleve RFC, England)