An Ireland Under-20 Development squad scored a notable victory over their French counterparts in Vierzon, France on Friday evening.
The match in Vierzon (about 200 kilometres south of Paris), which marked the centenary celebrations of the region, was played in front of a capacity crowd of 4,000 spectators.
This Ireland Under-20 Development squad has come together in recent weeks as part of the long term identification of players under the National Talent programme of the IRFU.
The four provincial academies were asked to nominate players earmarked for the academy system from schools and clubs whom they felt would be potential contenders for the Ireland Under-20s next season.
The players are typically playing at the Under-19 cycle and vying for academy places to further their rugby careers.
The nominated players took part in a three-day screening camp in recent weeks with all the provincial academy staff.
The squad came together this week to prepare for the game under the guidance of Colin McEntee, the Leinster Academy Manager, and IRFU National Coach Development Officer Colin Moran.
Playing against a French Under-20 Development side, the Ireland team notched up a notable win. The French side have four games under their belt this season including a 47-12 win over Scotland two weeks ago.
Tries from centre Eoin Griffin, winger Nevin Spence and one from flanker Brian O’Hara, to cap a fine individual performance, helped Ireland to a 25-18 win. Two conversions and two penalties from centre Noel Reid put the icing on the cake.
The side was captained by second row Brian Hayes, who led from the front throughout. This marked a terrific season for Hayes who led his school, Christian Brothers Cork to the Munster Schools Senior Cup title earlier this season.
The fitness levels of the Irish players were a key factor in the victory and much of the credit for this goes to Paudie Roche, the Munster Academy Fitness Manager.
Roche has worked closely with his counterparts in the the other provinces in monitoring the fitness and conditioning levels of the identified players in recent months and it paid dividends in the game on Friday.
IRFU High Performance Manager and current Ireland Under-20 coach Allen Clarke, who has spearheaded the programme, was on hand to watch the game.
Afterwards he paid tribute to the efforts of the entire squad and the contribution of the four branch academies and their staff as well as the schools and clubs.
“This development side is a first step in a long term national programme. The work of the academies in identifying players will pay dividends in a number of ways,” Clarke explained.
“The provinces will benefit from the experience these young players gain and Irish rugby will benefit from the continued development of players capable of playing at the highest levels of professional rugby.
“The role of the schools and clubs in bringing these players on at an early age and instilling in them a love of the game is also vital to the programme.
“Our aim is to benchmark our players against top sides in Europe and to identify potential Under-20 players for the 2009/10 Under-20 RBS 6 Nations and IRB Junior World Championship.
“And while the win is hugely significant, the whole process is of even greater importantance in both the short and long term to produce players capable of playing professional rugby for Ireland.”
IRELAND UNDER-20 DEVELOPMENT TEAM & REPLACEMENTS (v French Development U-20, Vierzon, France, Friday, April 17):
15. Darren Hudson (Leinster)
14. Nevin Spence (Ulster)
13. Noel Reid (Leinster)
12. Eoin Griffin (Connacht)
11. Diarmaid McCarthy (Munster)
10. Cormac O’Flynn (Munster)
9. John Cooney (Leinster)
1. James Robinson (Connacht)
2. Risteard Byrne (Leinster)
3. Jack O’Connell (Leinster)
4. David O’Callaghan (Munster)
5. Brian Hayes (Munster) (capt)
6. Chris O’Brien (Leinster)
7. Brian O’Hara (Munster)
8. Patrick Butler (Munster)
16. Robin O’Sullivan (Leinster)
17. Kieran Brookes (Exiles)
18. Ben Marshall (Leinster)
19. John Quill (Munster)
20. Adam Kennedy (Connacht)
21. Brian Kingston (Leinster)
22. Luke O’Dea (Munster)