With this year’s captain Dan Leavy and his stand-in Sean O’Brien both succumbing to injury, number 8 Jack O’Donoghue has been chosen to lead the Ireland Under-20s for their IRB Junior World Championship campaign in New Zealand.
Mike Ruddock’s Ireland Under-20 squad open the tournament next Monday, facing Six Nations champions France in Auckland with the game live on TG4 (kick-off 5.35pm local time/6.35am Irish time).
Jack O’Donoghue and his team-mates will also face regular rivals Wales in the second round of Pool B games, before wrapping up the pool stages against Fiji, whom they beat 46-3 in last year’s Junior World Championship in France.
Having played 80 minutes against both France and Wales in this season’s Six Nations, as well as starting that 2013 encounter with the Fijians, O’Donoghue is well versed in the challenge that lies ahead.
“Last year I played against Fiji and I know what the competition is going to be like, the short space in between games where you need to recover well. We have a tough start with our two opening games against France and Wales,” said the 20-year-old from Waterford.
“They were both tough opposition in the Six Nations so we need to up our performances now and we have plenty to build on going into those games.
“We know their strengths and weaknesses and vice versa for them. The results didn’t go our way in that campaign but we know what we need to improve and change now for the World Championship.”
The aforementioned Six Nations tournament saw the Ireland Under-20s suffer a 23-13 defeat away to France, coupled with a 16-0 loss to Wales in Athlone.
O’Donoghue, who first played rugby for Waterpark RFC aged 9, added: “We start with France who presented a tough challenge in March and we gave them too much in the closing stages of the game, so we need to produce an 80-minute performance next week.
“Then we face Wales and we certainly need to restore pride against them after our defeat at home in February so we need to make sure we produce a better performance this time around. And then our final pool game is against the challenge of Fiji who I would have encountered in last year’s tournament.”
As with all competitions at any age-grade or level, the step up from the European to the world stage presents a new set of opportunities and challenges.
“This competition is the next step up from the Six Nations, you’re playing the best players in the world at this age, against northern and southern Hemisphere teams, and it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to play against them.
“You always want to see where you stand against players at this level and you want to be involved in a tournament like this on the world stage.
“I’ve never been to New Zealand so it should be a great experience and it’s a huge honour that I get to go down there and captain the squad,” he explained.
The UL Bohemians back rower is one of two Munster representatives named in their second Junior World Championship squad – Garryowen winger/full-back Alex Wootton is the other.
“Alex has also been involved at this level, and we’ve filled the other lads in on what it’s going to be like.
“Playing a game every four days is going to be tough on the body and we have spoken about the challenges and shorter recovery periods.”
Overall, O’Donoghue is happy with the progress he is making as he moves into his third year of the Greencore Munster Academy for the 2014/15 season.
Looking back over the season he has had, he stated: “I’ve had a few opportunities this year attending senior squad training sessions, and got called into some of the British & Irish Cup sessions also so it’s been a good year.
“I’ve had some great experiences with the Six Nations and now I’m looking forward to the Junior World Championship.”
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