Peter Malone has coached a winning side in France before, but tonight in Narbonne will be different. He knows that.
It’s was last April when an U19s side he was involved with faced their French counterparts over four days in the sprawling national academy that is Marcoussis. A three-point win for the visitors was followed by a heavy defeat to a peeved set of hosts.
He can still remember the “pretty nasty hotel” they were billeted in outside of Paris and how the tears flowed in the opposing ranks during the rendition of the French national anthem – for a virtual friendly in front of 200 people.
Nine of those Irish players will feature in the 23-man U20s squad this evening and Malone, who serves as their forwards coach, believes last year’s experience will be of some use to that cohort even if the two assignments can hardly compare.
“It is going to be a complete step up,” he explained. “We will be in Narbonne with probably the whole town out (to support). It will be a different atmosphere but certainly playing in France … the guys would have a fair knowledge of the players.”
Ireland travelled this week on the back of a chastening defeat to Wales in Donnybrook. True, they played some sublime rugby and scored three tries, but they were bested up front and lacked a structure in their game management that proved costly.
Malone is Elite Player Development manager and U20s head coach at Munster so it was understandable that he should have referenced Ronan O’Gara on Wednesday as an example to his half-backs and full-backs in how to employ an intelligent kicking game.
Scrum-half John Poland was awarded man of the match against the Welsh and yet there is clear room for improvement from both playmakers - the Cork Con nine and Johnny McPhillips, his partner at ten - if France are to be kept in check.
Malone stressed that most of the errors made last week were basic and fixable and highlighted a more accurate setpiece and more care in exiting their own 22 as key work-ons for the group of youngsters as they look to get their Six Nations campaign back on track.
Smart, efficient rugby was the message for a side that has licence to play it as they see it under Nigel Carolan but one which Malone agrees needs to take things on a needs-must basis. In France that involves more boot to ball than through the hands stuff.
“The principles of rugby don’t change massively. I know there is more detail about game plans in the pro game, but in the 22 you need to kick it dead. That’s row four of the stand so they can’t take a quick throw.
We can still back ourselves to play. I have no problem if we are in flow, have got over the gain-line and for the lads to have a cut. If they see an offload is on, they take it and we back them on it.”
H Keenan (UCD/Leinster); M Byrne (Terenure/Leinster), S Daly (Cork Constitution/Munster), J O’Brien (UCD/Leinster), C O’Brien (Clontarf/Leinster); J McPhillips (QUB/Ulster), J Poland (Cork Constitution/Munster); A Porter (UCD/Leinster), A McBurney (Ballymena/Ulster), C Kenny (Buccaneers/Connacht); P Claffey (Galwegians/Connacht), J Ryan (Lansdowne/Leinster); C Gallagher (Sligo/Connacht), D Walsh (Cork Constitution/Cork), M Deegan (Lansdowne/Leinster).
S Fenton (Young Munster/Munser), J Bollard (Dublin University/Leinster), C O’Donnell (Sligo/Connacht), S O’Connor (Cashel/Munster), K Brown (Shannon/Munster), S Kerins (Sligo/Connacht), B Connon (Newcastle Falcons), T Kennedy (St Mary’s/Leinster).
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