One day you’re the breakout star of the U20 Six Nations. The next you’re fighting to keep your favourite No. 8 jersey for the World Cup.
That’s Jack O’Sullivan’s dubious reward — and Ireland coach Noel McNamara’s joyful headache — as Ireland’s preparations for the U20 World Cup are set to step up a notch.
Ireland will travel to England next month with the pick of the No. 8s from the last two Six Nations, two-time man-of-the-match O’Sullivan and highly-rated Leinster prospect Caelan Doris, who starred alongside Jordan Larmour in 2017 but missed this year’s campaign through injury.
“We’d love to have that headache of trying to find a way of getting the two of them in together,” said McNamara last month. Since then, Doris has returned to training with his province.
O’Sullivan’s just happy to embrace the healthy rivalry between the Munster and Leinster 8s, one which has the potential to drive both to better things.
“I’d be happy as long as I start. I play six a lot with Munster and UCC, so I’m pretty familiar with that too,” said O’Sullivan, the recipient of a UCC Sport Star Award this week.
“There’s a bit of healthy rivalry. We’d be pushing each other and hopefully get the best out of each other. You can’t sit back and relax. I got two man-of-the-matches but he was the main man in their tournament last year so I know I have to up it again.”
This time last year, O’Sullivan was preparing for his Leaving Cert, in between captaining Pres to the Munster Senior Cup and touring France with the Ireland U19s.
This year, it’s first-year finance exams he’ll have to squeeze in between World Cup warm-up games.
What he has added in that time is bucketloads of confidence to carry into that tournament.
Two of his four tries were bulldozed over from close range. Two more came from similar positions outside the 22, one via a hand-off, the other thanks to a sizzling sidestep.
Another bucket of confidence for the well.
“It’d been a while since I’d shown it before that,” he laughs.
“I was delighted with it afterwards because I hadn’t done it for a while so it’s good to see I still have it.”
That try-scoring ability will be keenly needed, but it’s in defence where O’Sullivan sees room for improvement.
“We’ve a tough group, France, South Africa, and Georgia, all big, physical teams. We’ll be up against it.
“We’ve got the ability to score tries so we’d be confident in that, it’s just our defence will need a bit of work.”
Before the first Ireland camp since the Six Nations on Sunday week, there’s the continuing matter of Munster duty.There’s help from the likes of Lions CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony along the way, just not too much.
“They’re watching themselves too,” he says with a chuckle. “They wouldn’t be giving you too much because they see you as the guy coming through and trying to take their position.
“But, in training, they’d help you out if you were unsure of calls and all that.”
His first cousins, Niall and Rory Scannell, are free to offer plenty of tips. Blood being thicker than water, plus the fact they play in different positions.
“They’d be very helpful that way. They’d be giving me advice on what to do the whole time on how to balance rugby and college.
“They’d just be chatting and asking how I’m getting on.”
They’ll keep him grounded and train his sights on the next target: “A Munster cap would be the next milestone.”
One man who is a step ahead of him on that front is fellow finance student and UCC Sport Star awardee John Poland.
The 21-year-old is in third year, but his big test came in February when he was brought on for Munster against Zebre.
“It was something that was coming for a while so it was nice to finally get it, just to say I have one cap anyway. Hopefully, I can get a few more but we’ve to wait and see,” said Poland.
“It was kind of surreal because it was the final warm-up with 20 minutes to go, we’d just got a try to get the bonus point and I was thinking: ‘Jeez, if I’m not coming on now, I won’t be coming on until five minutes to go’.
“As I thought that, I got the call to go up to the sideline. Then, I was a bit in awe of the whole thing. Once I got out there, first play, I got a touch of the ball and then it was just like any other game.”
He even had his fingerprints on the move for a late try.“It was actually a pre-planned move but that wasn’t what was meant to happen. The ball squirted out so I changed it, flicked it up to Kevin O’Byrne, the hooker, a few offloads and it ended up with a try.
“I was half hoping [to get the final pass from Sam Arnold] alright but you can’t get everything.”
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