Ireland under-20s captain Alex Kendellen has been tipped for big things after a magnificent man-of-the-match performance against Scotland.
The powerful No 8 led from the front with his dynamic ball-carrying helping Ireland to an opening 38-7 Under-20s Six Nations victory in Cardiff.
And his head coach Richie Murphy is extremely excited by the 20-year-old’s potential.
“He’s an incredible young player,” said Murphy when asked about the performance.
“There’s little things in his game that he needs to improve on, and they’ve been shown to him on a regular basis but his athleticism, his will to win, is second to none.
“As a captain, he leads very much by example.
“He’s well thought out and communicates with the lads in a cool and calm manner which is really important.”
Considering this was their first competitive game since March 2020, there was a lot to like about Ireland’s performance. Despite a rusty first half, they put Scotland to the sword in an efficient manner to coast to a comfortable victory.
It was an even contest until the beginning of the second half when Scotland openside Harri Morris had a rush of blood to the head when he recklessly took Ireland full-back Jamie Osbourne out in the air at full tilt. It was no surprise to see a red card shown for such a dangerous aerial tackle and the game was over as a serious contest thereafter.
“Firstly, player safety has to be paramount, and I thought the referee got that decision right,” said Murphy.
“It probably made it a little bit more difficult for Scotland because we went after them when they were down to 13 in a couple of mauls, and we also tried to hold our width across the pitch a little bit better.
“We managed at that stage to play to the space a little bit better than we did in the second half. It gave us a little bit more opportunity, and some more belief that we could execute under the pressure we were under.”
Ireland started strongly, Alex Soroka powering his way over from short range after a period of sustained pressure. But Scotland ground their way back into the game and levelled the scores when Elliot Gourlay touched down after a well-executed grubber kick from Cameron Scott.
Ireland took a slim lead into the interval after being awarded a penalty try when Soroka was taken out by Michael Gray just as he was primed to pounce on a loose ball to score.
Gray was sent to the sin bin and after Morris’s red card Ireland ran riot with both Sam Illo and Kendellen claiming tries from short range.
But the try of the game resulted from some neat handling which allowed Shane Jen to run in unopposed from 35m out, while Osborne also got in on the act with a try.
“Coming out of this game this week we have so much more to work on which is great and the lads are really hungry to get going again for the Wales game next Friday,” said Murphy.
Scorers for Scotland: Tries: E Gourlay 21; Conversions: C Scott 22.
Scorers for Ireland: Tries: Soroka 4, Penalty try 36, S Illo 42, A Kendellen 56, S Jennings 62, J Osborne 77; Conversions: J Humphreys 5, Corkery 62, 79.
Scotland: O Melville; F Callaghan (R Talt 45), S King, E Gourlay, M Gray, C Scott (C Townsend 60), M Redpath (McVicker 46), C Lamberton (Drummond 50), P Harrison (Jones 50), O Frostick (G Breese 46), M Williamson, A Samuel (E Ferrie 72), A Smeaton (O Leatherbarrow 60), H Morris, B Muncaster.
Replacements not used: R Jackson, T Glendinning, R McKnight.
Ireland: J Osborne; B Moxham, S Jennings, C Forde, J O’Connor (C Cosgrave 55), J Humphreys (Corkery 40), C McKee (W Reilly 63), T Lasisi (J Boyle 58), R Loughnane (E Debuitlear 61), S Illo (M Donnelly 58), M Morrissey, H Sheridan, A Soroka (Crothers 47), O McCormack (D Byrne 58), A Kendellen.
Replacements not used: J Kelleher, B Carson, D Okeke.
Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy). Star man: Alex Kendellen (Ireland).