Ireland’s U20s are not about to shy away from talk of history.
Four victories from their first four Six Nations games leave them just 80 minutes away from a rare Grand Slam and there is no talk of ‘one game at a time’ or attempts to deflect from what would be a standout achievement as they prepare for Friday’s finish in Wales.
“After the Italy game it became a real possibility and Stuart Lancaster came into us after that game and made the point that we shouldn’t hide away from it after three good performances and that we should make it a serious goal,” said outside-centre Liam Turner.
“From the way we played we could see that we could definitely do it and it was just about having that confidence going into the last two matches, that we could go on and win.”
Lancaster wasn’t the first to raise the bar for this impressive group.
Many of these players, Turner included, have soldiered together at national level since U18; current head coach Noel McNamara was the man calling the shots then too. The Clare man knew what he had on his hands even then.
Trailing Wales by 17 points at half-time two years ago, the Irish boys turned it around to win by two in a bit of an epic and McNamara told them afterwards that an U20s Grand Slam was very much within their capabilities.
Maybe it’s no surprise that history doesn’t act as an anchor to these boys. Irish Grand Slams, in any grade of rugby, are a rarity. The only one at this level came in 2007 when the likes of Keith Earls, Felix Jones, and Cian Healy did the honours.
“I actually only found out that we had won the Grand Slam in 2007 last week, to be perfectly honest,” said Turner. “I didn’t think we had won one at 20s level. That probably shows that we are sticking to ourselves and what we are trying to do.”
Scotland’s defeat of Wales last Friday, coupled with Ireland’s riveting win against France in Cork the same night, was enough to secure the championship for McNamara’s side
with a game to spare but there was no losing the heads in the aftermath
When all was said and done in Musgrave Park, the squad repaired back to the team hotel where they ordered pizzas, watched the game again on a big screen, and just chilled out.
They’re in a good place but a loss in Colwyn Bay would be hard to take after all this. “It would be bitterly disappointing because we have such an opportunity to do something that not a lot of teams have done,” said Turner.
“That’s the mindset of this team, we’re not satisfied. We’re obviously in a good place but we want to go on and win again this Friday.”
Key to Ireland’s successes thus far has been the settled nature of the side.
Amazingly, the pack has been untouched throughout and Turner is actually one of 11 players to have started all four games this campaign.
McNamara has also been sparing with the use of his bench, opting to empty it only against the Azzurri — and yet they coped superbly with the loss of centre and captain David Hawkshaw and out-half Harry Byrne against the French.
Hawkshaw remains out having gone under the knife for a cruciate injury last week and the Leinster man is likely out of the summer’s World Cup to boot. Byrne, however, is working on his hip problem with the aim of making Colwyn Bay.
Scrum-half Craig Casey, so impressive in the defeat of Les Bleus, suffered a knee injury late in the second-half last Friday but the Munster nine has had a scan and is rated by McNamara as a decent shout for the squad’s biggest game of the year.