Jack O’Donogue, the try-scoring man-of-the-match against Scotland last month, returns to the Ireland Under-20 team for their Six Nations encounter with Italy in Athlone tonight (kick-off 7.05pm).
Jack O’Donoghue is in the midst of his second year with the Ireland Under-20s, and the big ball-carrying number 8 certainly started the 2014 Championship with a bang.
O’Donoghue was central to Ireland’s only win of the campaign to date, scoring two tries and picking up the man-of-the-match award in the 34-7 dismissal of Scotland at Dubarry Park.
Mike Ruddock’s side have their third and final outing of the season at the midlands venue tonight as they host Italy with O’Donoghue resuming at the base of the scrum.
The second year Geencore Munster Academy player, who missed the recent England game with concussion, explained: “I got concussed in training so I had to take the mandatory steps but I’ve been cleared to play.
“I did everything I could to get fit for it, working hard in the gym and working hard off the pitch as well – doing my study on them to see their strengths and weaknesses and to see where we can really attack them.”
O’Donoghue first played rugby with the Waterpark RFC Under-9s and went on to captain the club to an All-Ireland Under-17 title in 2011.
The following year, the talented Waterford youngster was parachuted into the Munster ‘A’ team for his lone British & Irish Cup appearance to date before earning his first Ireland U-20 cap against Fiji at last summer’s IRB Junior World Championship.
He is enjoying working under Ireland U-20 boss Mike Ruddock, telling TheScore.ie: “He’s a great coach, he knows his stuff. He’s very positive and brings a lot of knowledge to the game.
“You can sit down with him and have a chat to see how you’re getting on. Last year he gave me a few pointers for what to work on, like a bit of control at the back of the scrum – things to make me a better player.”
O’Donoghue’s physicality, strong skill-set and ability on the ball have seen him make rapid progress at underage level, with the leadership qualities he honed at club level seeing him selected as captain of both the Ireland Under-19s and Munster Under-20s.
With his training overseen by Greig Oliver and Colm McMahon in Munster, the 6f 3in, 14 st 6lb forward is working hard and focusing on the areas of his game that he needs to improve.
“One thing might take a few months to get used to – let’s say a new body position in the scrum – but then something else could come quick enough, for example putting on a bit of footwork before you come to contact.
“I found I had to work a good bit on my breakdown because it’s hard being a bit lanky.
“It was difficult to get into a low body position to clean out the bigger, heavier fellas. I worked on that a lot at the start of the season.
“You’d be hitting pads and doing a bit of work with other people, if they’re looking to improve on the same thing. You’d pair up with them and go against each other in the drills.”
As well as lining out for the Ireland U-20s this season, O’Donoghue led Munster through their U-20 Interprovincial campaign and has enjoyed regular run-outs with UL Bohemians in Ulster Bank League Division 1B.
Commenting on the three narrow losses suffered by his Munster U-20 side, he said: “It was a tough campaign, especially up in Ravenhill when we lost it at the very end.
“And then against Leinster we let them get ahead of us and we fought back well but missed a kick in the last play to win it.
“Connacht then just wasn’t our day – they got off to a good start and scored a try in the opening minutes and we were chasing the game from then on.”
The 20-year-old added: “It’s going well (with UL Bohs), up until the Six Nations I was playing week in week out with them.
“We’re up to joint-third place in the (Division 1B) table and looking maybe for the play-offs to try to get promoted again, but I’m happy enough with my own performances.”