Johnny McPhillips thrives after switching country and code

Excuse Johnny McPhillips if he hesitates a second in the corridors of the AJ Bell Stadium on Saturday.

The Ireland out-half could just as easily be lining out for opponents England in the World Rugby U20 Championship final had he not switched to his parents’ country over a year ago.

McPhillips was born and grew up in Newcastle Upon Tyne and played for England at U18 level.

Indeed, he might have been following an entirely different career path as he spent five seasons in the Newcastle United FC academy before concentrating on rugby.

And with mum Honor from Waterford and dad Tony from Belfast, the lure of the green was always strong and he decided to move to Ulster and develop his rugby career from there.

He’s now studying politics in Queen’s University and is in the Ulster academy and his displays for Ireland in this tournament will not have gone unnoticed by Les Kiss.

“The majority of my family being Irish, they were dying for me to go to Ireland and it was always something that I looked at.

“A real big reason was wanting to study, I thought I had a better opportunity to get a degree done across in Ireland and obviously it was a great opportunity at Ulster as well and I’ve loved every minute of it.”

McPhillips, who was a full-back initially, played at out-half for Ireland during the Six Nations but Bill Johnston took over for the opening games against Wales and New Zealand when he recovered from injury.

But then Johnston suffered another shoulder injury just after half-time against the Baby Blacks and McPhillips has steered the side since then, combining awesome kicking with some wonderful link play.

All the matches so far have been at the splendid Manchester City Academy Stadium — the final is at the AJ Bell, home of Sale Sharks — and McPhillips knows that the nearby Etihad and other such venues might be his playing platform had he continued his football with Newcastle United.

“I spent five and half years in their academy when I was little. There sort of came a time where I had to chose between rugby and football and I was lucky to get a scholarship to go to boarding school and play rugby there and that’s where I was getting my most enjoyment.

“I played my school rugby at Dame Allans and then my mini-rugby at Northern. I was picked up from the mini-rugby at Northern. I’ve been at Newcastle since I was quite young.

“I’m enjoying this tournament and also at Ulster. I’ve trained a bit with the seniors this year. Being around some of the senior boys was really helpful. I learned loads and it really helped my development. It was a really good experience training with those boys.”


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