Nigel Carolan helped guide Ireland’s U20 side to a World Cup final in England last June and he is hugely optimistic about the potential for individual and collective success in the months and years ahead.
Carolan says former youth stars Garry Ringrose and Joe Carbery will be joined by several other tyros, as Schmidt and Ireland build towards the 2019 World Cup. Carolan is convinced that more recently involved players, on top of some linked with this year’s squad, will successfully step off the conveyor belt and show Schmidt they have what it takes to go much further.
“So far this season we have had just three short camps together and have brought 40 players in for the latest one. Last year, we used 38 players, so we have decided to work with an extensive squad to allow us have strength in depth. We’re laying a lot of the foundations now.”
That policy seemed to bear fruit last season. Ireland had mixed fortunes in a Six Nations, won by Wales with a Grand Slam. Yet, when it came to the World Cup, Carolan’s charges covered themselves in glory, beating the Welsh, New Zealand, Georgia, and Argentina on the way to a place in the final, which was won by hosts England (14-45).
“We grew as a team throughout the Six Nations and we carried the momentum of that through to the World Cup, when it was about winning the first game, then the second, then the third, and so on. They were a great bunch of lads individually and they became a very good team.”
And what about names for the future to join Ringrose and Carbery in the senior spotlight?
“Well, there were a lot of good players in last year’s team... Let’s look at the forwards. There was Andrew Porter, who was immense and he is already ready for pro rugby, he’s a name that will be seen. James Ryan, the captain, was unbelievable, he’s a hardy buck and there’s not many guys in the country that has what he has on top of his physical stature, his rugby brain and how he works both on and off the pitch; he’s just extremely professional and is certainly one for the future. We shouldn’t forget Max Deegan, either. He got player of the tournament in that World Cup following the huge impact he made in big games and against big opposition. You hope he will get exposure soon at the higher level, because he is really in a good space.
“We lost Bill Johnston in that New Zealand game and we haven’t really seen him yet, because he has just returned from his shoulder surgery. He’s eligible again next year and if we see him [for U20’s] this year, it will be a big bonus for us. He’s one who could slot in seamlessly.
“Last year, there was a real X-factor in the backs. Shane Daly was one I had earmarked. I believed he had some of the characteristics to play for Ireland if he was to develop further. Jacob Stockdale has already played for Ulster and is frequently in their 23 and even one of the players that didn’t make our World Cup, Rob Little, has featured for Ulster and has gone well.”
While Carolan reflected well on the group just gone through, he must now plan for another year of challenges and he won’t have many voices of experience to help him. Not that he is particularly worried: “That’s always the challenge with an U20 squad, dealing with the changing circumstances, but there appears to be plenty of talent around the country. Of last year’s squad the guys available are Bill Johnston, Johnny McPhillips, the two number 10s, Niall Saunders of Harlequins and Cillian Gallagher, Then there would be Rob Little, Colm Hogan, a couple of the fringe players from last year who are in a very good place now. Overall, I’d be pretty optimistic, because I feel there is strength in depth in some key positions and some real exciting talent.”