The Ireland Under-18 Clubs squad is in full preparation mode for another tilt at the FIRA-AER U-18 title later this year. As part of their build-up they will play a Languedoc Selection as the Combined Provinces Under-18s this Sunday. Team manager Willie Gribben brings us up to speed.
The Ireland Under-18 Clubs squad first got together in November when 36 players were called up following the Interprovincial U-18 Clubs series and the Irish Exiles’ two-match tour to Ireland in late August.
A new innovation this season was a match against the Irish U-18 Schools in the second camp, which was a vital part of the preparation programme for both squads.
Ireland Elite Player Development Manager and Under-20 head coach Allen Clarke has been involved with both U-18 squads and has attended the first three camps of the Clubs’ programme working closely with head coach Greg Lynch.
His involvement emphasises the importance that the IRFU place upon the age grade squads as they clearly see these young sides as having an important role in helping identify players for the future.
Another vital part of the preparation of the U-18 Clubs squad for its participation in the FIRA-AER U-18 European Championships is the Combined Provinces U-18s’ match with Languedoc, a strong rugby playing region in the south east of France.
The U-18 Clubs management has picked a squad of 22 players for this Sunday’s game which will be played in the local Narbonne rugby stadium, Stade d’Honneur du Parc des Sports et de l’Amitie, with kick-off at 4pm local time.
The squad assembled in Ashbourne, their base for training camps, on Thursday and departed for France this morning.
A packed schedule lies ahead as these young players take another major step along the way towards an International cap.
Following Sunday’s fixture, the squad of 26 players will be announced for the European Championships with one final camp to be held in Ashbourne – March 12 to 14 – before the squad leave for Treviso.
The match against Languedoc has been an important fixture in the U-18 Clubs squad calendar for the past four seasons. The first match, played in Greystones in 2007, was won by the Combined Provinces line-up.
In 2008 Languedoc gained their revenge in Narbonne and unfortunately the 2009 match, which was due to take place at Ashbourne RFC was cancelled due to frost and snow last February.
So the match-up stands at 1-1 as this year’s Combined Provinces squad travels to the Languedoc region to try to regain the trophy which is played for by the two sides.
This year’s U-18 squad initially featured 11 players who were involved in last year’s FIRA-AER U-18 European Championships, held in France, where the team finished in third place.
Unfortunately for Sunday’s game against Languedoc, only six of those players are available – Kieran Marmion, Callum Boland, Jack Carty, Grant Connon, Jake Considine and Jonathan Murphy.
On the injured list at present are Michael Sherlock, Tadhg Furlong and Robbie Holt. The final two players missing from last year’s squad are Aaron Conneely and Daniel Qualter, both of whom have been selected for the Ireland U-18 Schools squad.
The management and squad travel to France in anticipation of a tough examination of the abilities of this young squad but knowing that this test is exactly what the squad needs as it moves towards the final stages of preparation for the European Championships in Treviso.
If the management and players are in any doubt about the task that lies in front of them, then they only have to reflect on last week’s results in France when unfortunately all four Ireland sides – the seniors, Under-20, women and students – returned empty handed!
IRFU Youth Committee Chairman Gerry Quaid and IRFU Age Grade Development Manager Hendrik Kruger are travelling with the Combined Provinces U-18s this weekend.
On Sunday, IRFU President and former Youth Chairman John Callaghan and Louis Magee, the IRFU’s Game Performance Committee Chairman, will attend the match against Languedoc.
FFR President Pierre Camou will also be in attendance. In many ways the attendance of such high profile personnel reflects the status of the match.
COMBINED PROVINCES UNDER-18 SQUAD (v Languedoc Selection):
Kieran Ball (Wellington College/Exiles)
Callum Bolland (Buccaneers/Connacht)
Jack Carty (Buccaneers/Connacht)
Tom Chellew (Northampton School/Exiles)
Conor Clancy (Stoneyhurst College/Exiles)
Grant Connon (Carlisle/Exiles)
Jake Considine (Young Munster/Munster)
Thomas Daly (Carlow/Leinster)
Christopher Farrell (Clogher Valley/Ulster)
Charles Gallagher (Banbridge/Ulster)
Joe Keane (UL Bohemians/Connacht)
Akhlaque Khan (Navan/Leinster)
Daniel Mannion (Wicklow/Leinster)
Tom Margetson (Wellington College/Exiles)
Kieran Marmion (Kirkham GS/Exiles)
Eoghan Masterson (Portlaoise/Leinster)
Cian McGovern (Crosshaven/Munster)
Jonathan Murphy (Banbridge/Ulster)
Alan O’Connor (Skerries/Leinster)
Darren O’Shea (Crosshaven/Munster)
Christopher Tonge (Skerries/Leinster)
Jack Walsh (Newcastle/Exiles)