Ireland Under-20 head coach Nigel Carolan insists there is no lack of motivation as his side hope to finish the U-20 RBS Nations on a high by beating Scotland in Galashiels tonight.
As he prepares his young side for their final match of the Championship, Nigel Carolan said it was vital that the players perform consistently as competition for places increases in advance of the World Rugby Under-20 Championship in June.
The Ireland U-20s enjoyed a strong start to the Six Nations with victories over Italy and France, but back-to-back defeats to England and Wales in their last two games mean they are out of the running for the title.
Valuable lessons have been learned over the course of the campaign which will stand them in good stead going forward. For Carolan and the coaching team, it is about creating an environment for the players to grow and that process continues at Netherdale this evening.
“Our philosophy that we have taken from the start is to facilitate an environment where we want to stretch the players. There is an element of responsibility, both on and off the field, and in order for us to facilitate, we have had to stretch ourselves too,” he explained.
“It is not all about us telling (them what to do), they have to figure things out. When they get to the professional side, they have to be consistent and that is something they are starting to learn.
“If we were going to change anything…we’ve asked ourselves…against England, we knew we created opportunities. Against Wales, there were a series of things that went wrong all day. We didn’t fire a shot (against Wales) and as badly as we played, we came within a hair’s breadth of beating them at the end.
“We have to try and focus on those. We get a very limited amount of time in camp to address those areas but that is where we place the emphasis on the players again. It is all part of the learning process.”
Carolan has tried to get the players to express themselves on the field of play and the attacking threats in the current Irish squad are numerous. From the control of the half-backs and the defence-splitting runs of the back-line to the forwards fronting up against top quality opposition, the head coach has been pleased.
The Ireland U-20 management profiled the squad when they were brought into the camp and felt this free style of play which he has introduced was the style which best suited their skill-set. It is one Carolan wholeheartedly believes in.
“We have to be true to ourselves, and that includes the rest of the management team. We are comfortable coaching an open style of rugby. It is about empowering the players to make decisions about whether they run or whether they kick the ball. Our philosophy has been ‘run first, kick second’. At times it has worked. Against Wales, we did not get any return on our running game.
“Actually, we didn’t get much return on our kicking game either. We were living on scraps but as I said, even when both were not working, we came within a hair’s breadth of equalising (at 19-12 down).
“We know that we can create chances; it is about taking them. That is worth taking out of this campaign – the ability to be accurate and have precision, lads knowing their job and doing it well.”
The former Connacht winger paid tribute to his players and the spirit they have shown throughout the Six Nations. They came very close to defeating a strong English team that are gunning for the title alongside France.
There have been some brilliant performances from the likes of half-backs Ross Byrne and Nick McCarthy, while Stephen Fitzgerald, Sam Arnold (pictured above), Garry Ringrose and Billy Dardis – all regular starters in the back-line – have taken their impressive club form onto the international stage.
Up front there have also been solid performances from Lorcan Dow, Zack McCall and David O’Connor, among others. Carolan is willing his charges to finish the tournament with a third triumph as they try to sustain the desired level of intensity on a consistent basis.
“I think we have to stay positive and finish the campaign on a positive note. There was a lot of expectation on the group, coming in, but maybe that is not a bad thing. We would also say that we could beat any one of these (Six Nations) teams on any given day. It is about backing that up.
“These are young fellas and they are learning. The level of intensity they play at, at international level, obviously supersedes what they are used to on a weekly basis. To try and sustain that level of intensity is the big challenge.
“We are already looking at what plans we have in place. By the end of the game, on Friday, we will have had the chance to look at all 30 players (in the extended squad) and will have confirmed our knowledge and feelings about them.
“The next stage is to shake the trees and see what is out there at Under-19 level and the Under-20s that missed out but have kicked on – guys that can challenge for a place at the World Cup.”
From video sessions, training sessions and meetings through to matches, the emphasis has been on the players to drive the side forward. Positive questioning is key as Carolan looks to hear as much as possible from the players and what they see as opposed to simply the coaching staff. It has been a difficult workload for Carolan, double-jobbing with his Academy Manager role back in Connacht, but it is one he is cleary enjoying.
“The workload is something I have put upon myself because of the standards and expectations that I would have. If I expect the players to put in a lot of work, I expect the same of myself. Obviously, it has been a challenging time in terms of coping with both jobs but they have been very supportive, at home and at Connacht,” he added.
“It has been important for me to get this opportunity (to coach the Ireland U-20s) and overall, I have taken positives out of it. I am very honoured to have this role and that is why I feel I need to put a certain amount of work into it.
“I don’t take it for granted or lightly. This player group, they deserve to be challenged. They deserve a good environment in which they can grow. That is why it is important and why I relish this opportunity.”