The Ireland Under-18 Clubs side are preparing for the FIRA/AER Under-18 European Championships next month. Team manager Willie Gribben took time out to talk to IrishRugby.ie about the work being done and the importance of this particular age grade for development.
Since last October, the next generation of rugby players have been busily preparing for their 2009 internationals which take place during April.
The IRFU have a two-strand approach towards Under-18 representative rugby at both interprovincial and international levels with the Irish Clubs Under-18 system complementing that of the Irish Schools.
The Ireland Under-18 Schools team participates in a Six Nations tournament, which this year will be held in Italy, whilst the Ireland Under-18 Clubs team takes part in the FIRA-AER Under 18 European Championships.
Ireland Under-18 Clubs team manager Willie Gribben said: “The clubs system provides a development pathway for young players, who play their rugby with clubs rather than schools.
“It has been very successful in producing senior internationals, most recently Donnacha Ryan and Grand Slam champion Stephen Ferris.”
Within the provinces, players are identified at 16 years of age when they become involved in regional development squads.
These players attend regular squad training with these squads where the emphasis is on developing skills and improving conditioning/fitness.
“From these ‘RDS’, players are selected to represent their provinces in interprovincials. Further development work is undertaken in the provinces by the academies once players are identified as potential Irish squad members,” Gribben added.
Gribben is keen to stress the importance of an integrated approach across all the feeder avenues.
“The clubs system also plays an important role in integrating the Irish Exiles as the Under-18 Clubs international side provides a direct link between those players who live in the UK.”
The culmination of the season for the U-18 Clubs side is taking part in the U-18 European Championships.
This year’s FIRA/AER U-18 European Championships, which involves 32 European Nations divided into 4 divisions, will be held in the Cote D’Azure, France from April 2 to 12.
“The tournament, which is a wonderful cultural and playing experience for the players, concludes with a banquet for over 1000 players, management and organisers on Saturday evening before the teams depart for home on Sunday,” said Gribben, who will lead the squad along with head coach Greg Lynch and their backroom team.
“During last year’s Championships, which were staged in Treviso, Ireland were involved in a shared coaching session with Croatia who play in Group D.
Following the combined training, the Irish coaches worked with the Croatian squad and their coaches to help them further develop their skills and understanding of the game which is ‘all part of the experience’, according to Gribben.
Ireland Under-18 Clubs Management Team:
William Gribben – Team Manager
Greg Lynch – Coach
Dan Van Zyl – Assistant Coach
Ken O’Connell – Technical Support
Tim O’Flannigan – Doctor
Barry Smith – Physio
Sami Dowling – Fitness Advisor
Len Browne – Video Analyst
Tom Nyhan – Team Assistant
Louis Magee – IRFU Committee Representative
Keep up to date with all the news from the tournament in our dedicated tournament section – click here.