Size isn’t everything. Generations of Irish forwards have learned that much. The faces may change on an annual basis but the boys that go about their business for the national U20 side know chances are they will be giving away a fair few inches and pounds to their counterparts time and again.
England and France routinely bring more beef to the table and Italy and Wales can be regularly counted on to weigh in with an extra few kilos. Seeing Thomas Clarkson walk into a room only highlights the reality for this year’s crop. Clarkson is listed generously as 6ft 1in on the IRFU’s website. His weight reads as 16st 6lbs. Let’s just say that he’s not the biggest of tighthead props and, even if we take the union’s height charts at face value, he still comes up light against England’s Marcus Street and France’s Alex Buron. Both tightheads have well over a stone on him.
He was aware of that disparity before this Six Nations. “I don’t really like to look into other scrums that much. Before the England game, I scared myself a little watching a few of them in the Premiership. When I got into it, it wasn’t half as bad as I was expecting, which was a nice surprise! Being smaller means I need to make up for it with technique.”
He isn’t alone there. Hooker Dylan Tierny-Martin was converted from flanker because of his lack of size. Loosehead Josh Wycherley gave almost a stone up to England’s Olly Adkins and close to three against the gargantuan Jean-Baptiste Gros in Musgrave Park last Friday. Wycherley’s two tries on the latter evening demonstrated yet again just how effective Irish teams can be in working their way around such issues and that ability to go head to head with bigger men comes as no surprise to Clarkson.
“Maybe (it did) for England,” he said. “They mustn’t have looked at us too much because we’re such a tight unit. It’s not just me: The second rows and the back rows, they want to scrum. In a lot of scrums, (the opposition) can nod off and, when we go in, we do so as a unit.”
Ireland’s technique has been so good at the set piece that they have managed to launch off all 24 of their scrums in the four games. Manna from heaven for a back line that has the ability to make hay off scraps as well as silver service. That synchronicity of pack and backline has been evident in the side’s quartet of wins and they make for Colwyn Bay in Wales on Friday just 80 minutes shy of a Grand Slam to add to the Six Nations title claimed in Cork with the defeat of France last weekend.
Even more encouraging from Clarkson’s point of view is that he is one of the babies in the squad. Only Ulster’s Dave McCann is younger so another year of U20s experience awaits for a tighthead who only broke into the Trinity AIL team in November. “It is nice to get a bit of experience. I just put in a shift this year. I haven’t been doing much to stand out around the park. I just want to help the team really, gain experience, go to the World Cup and go into next year as a fully functioning tighthead.” Harry Byrne’s return at ten, in place of Ben Healy, is the only Irish change.
The starting pack has, incredibly, remained unchanged throughout this Six Nations.
Ireland (v Wales):
J Flannery (Shannon/Munster); A Kernohan (Queen’s University/Ulster), L Turner (Dublin University/Leinster), S French (Cork Constitution/Munster), J Wren (Cork Constitution/Munster); H Byrne (Lansdowne/Leinster), Craig Casey (Shannon/Munster); J Wycherley (Young Munster/Munster), D Tierney-Martin (Corinthians/Connacht), T Clarkson (Dublin University/Leinster); C Ryan (UCD/Leinster), N Murray (Buccaneers/Connacht); M Moloney (Old Belvedere/Leinster), S Penny (UCD RFC/Leinster), J Hodnett (UCC/Munster). Replacements: J McKee (Old Belvedere/Leinster), C Reid (Banbridge/Ulster), R Lomas (Galwegians/Connacht), R Baird (Dublin University/Leinster), D McCann (Banbridge/Ulster), Cormac Foley (St. Mary’s College / Leinster), Ben Healy (Garryowen/Munster), R Russell (Dublin University/Leinster).