Three wins from three in the bag and yet the sense when it comes to Nigel Carolan’s latest batch of Ireland U20s is that we have yet to witness anything like the best that the group has to offer as they face into this evening’s meeting with Wales in Eirias Park.
One-point wins away to Scotland and Italy were clear enough indicators that improvements would be required ahead of sterner tests and even the five-point defeat of France in Donnybrook two weeks ago was a victory for opportunism as much as consistency.
“We’ve got a bit of momentum is the best way to term it,” said assistant coach Peter Malone. “I don’t think we’d be jumping up and down with our performances against Scotland and Italy. In saying that, we went away from home and scraped wins but without executing everything we would have liked to execute.
“Sometimes you’ve got to just win matches (with) big moments from players and against France we started to click a bit better and started to show a few things we’ve been working on and guys grew into it. But this is going to be our biggest challenge.”
Wales actually present something of a curate’s egg.
A decent performance against an English side that has racked up three bonus-point wins has been bookended by a routine defeat of the Italians and a 65-point, eight-try blitz up in Scotland. And yet they’ve conceded 72 points in their last two games, too.
That’s a big leap from the 18 points the Welsh have leaked per game over the four previous campaigns and it offers scope for an Irish side that boasts considerable talent in a back-line that is being led for the second successive game by Munster out-half Bill Johnston.
“They would be very similar to their senior squad,” said Malone of the hosts.
“Very physical and they play a high-intensity game. They back their fitness, they back their physicality and they’ve also got the skill levels because it’s their natural sport over there. We’ve told the lads we need to match that physicality and see if they have a Plan B.”
Eirias Park is no more than a kick of the ball from the seafront in Colwyn Bay but the forecast suggests there will be no gales blowing in off the Irish Sea. Rain isn’t expected and the temperatures should be mild as they go about their business on the sand-based pitch.
Ireland’s pack lacks the beef of last year’s abnormally (by Irish standards) unit but there is enough quality in the likes of No.8 Caelan Doris and the second-row pairing of Oisin Dowling and Fineen Wycherley to think that a platform can be laid for Johnston, Jordan Larmour, Calvin Nash and the rest out back.
R Williams; C Baldwin, C Lewis, K Williams, R Conbeer; B Jones, D Blacker; R Carre, C Tarrant, K Assiratti; A Dombrandt, S Moore; S Lewis-Hughes, W Jones, A Ward.
J Larmour; T O’Brien, J Kelly, C Frawley, C Nash; B Johnston, J Stewart; J Conway, T McElroy, C Connolly; F Wycherley, O Dowling; G Coombes, P Boyle, C Doris.
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