There was a little bit of trepidation and an element of the unknown for the Ireland U20 coaches heading into the Six Nations opener against Scotland last Friday.
As is the case with age-grade rugby, you’re generally working with a brand new group of players every year – there are just seven from the class of 2019 who are involved this time around.
With just a few weeks to prepare and a warm-up game against Munster ‘A’ under their belt, this year’s crop produced a very good performance at Musgrave Park in Cork on Friday to emerge 38-26 victors over Scotland.
However, such are the high standards driven by head coach Noel McNamara, defence coach Kieran Campbell and the rest of the staff, they have found plenty of areas of Ireland’s game which need to be improved ahead of the clash with Wales at the same venue this Friday.
Ireland were cruising with a 33-12 lead midway through the second half but they took the foot off the pedal somewhat to allow Scotland an avenue back into the game – the Ireland coaches are keen for such a lapse not to repeat itself in the future.
“It was our second game really, we had a bit of a hit out with Munster,” Campbell said.
“It was a little bit of the unknown there going into the first game. You don’t get a chance to look at the opposition and you’re getting caught with a few things. Overall it was the ideal first performance, plenty to be chuffed about and plenty to work on, a few developments (in playing style) to be made; they need to be made fast. I think the way that we built into a 33-12 lead was great.
“We are just going to look at the way we managed momentum a little bit in the middle of the second half; it was like we took our foot off the pedal a little bit there. That allowed them to find some space in the game. Fortunately, we managed to bring it back and get a healthy lead at 38-19 which was always going to see us comfortable.”
Ireland’s defence was a bit of a mixed bag at times as they combined some superb line speed with moments of lapses in concentration which ultimately led to the concession of linebreaks. As defence coach, Campbell is not only keen for line speed to be maintained but it’s what you do with that rate of getting off the line which is the focus.
“What we talked about is that consistency in delivering the line speed but the level of collision that is necessary at this level. I think the guys have learned that, that you are not going to get a collision that you are going to win easily.
“We have to make sure that when we get our line speed and that we ‘hit and finish.’ We use a term, ‘finish on top,’ we have to finish on top this week. If we don’t finish on top this week, then the gainline is going to become hugely important for them [Wales] because that is the way they play.
“I think if I took one thing as the defence coach from the weekend is when we are on, and when we really stick our collisions we are hugely effective but quite rightly we have had a few chats with a couple of young men.”
Friday night’s clash was a physical affair but the good news is that there are no significant injuries to report from that bonus-point win so Ireland will look to continue their promising start to this year’s competition with a clean bill of health against Wales.