Ireland Under-18 Schools head coach Peter Smyth is happy with the direction his side is heading in despite falling to a 36-28 defeat to Wales in the U-18 Six Nations Festival in Cardiff.
The Ireland young guns missed out on a second win of the tournament, but the coaches were able to give important game-time to members of the extended squad and try out different combinations. In all, there were 11 personnel changes from last Saturday’s 20-17 victory over Italy.
There appears to be very little between the teams at the U-18 Festival in Wales, with Scotland the only side left with an unbeaten record after two rounds. Italy enjoyed a surprise 32-30 success against England today, while the Scots claimed the scalp of France, winning 24-21, ahead of Sunday’s closing clash with Ireland at the Arms Park (kick-off 12pm).
Ireland have been able to put 20 points on France, 20 on Italy and 28 on Wales (including tries from Angus Adair, Alex Kendellen, Nathan Doak and John McKee) during their Easter run of matches, but leaking tries had been an issue with the French and the Welsh able to break clear with a series of second half scores in both games.
Despite those two losses, Peter Smyth, who heads up the Ireland U-18 Schools management, is ‘very happy’ with how the players are developing. “Age-grade rugby and pushing through to the professional game is a tough experience and a tough learning experience but these boys are in a good position to kick on,” he said.
“We are putting a lot of emphasis into developing these guys into good all-round rugby players. Despite the defeat (to Wales today), we showed a lot of character (coming back with two late tries and four in all) and that gives me a lot of hope.”
Facing into their fourth international match in two weeks, the Ireland U-18s will be determined to finish their campaign on a high against in-form Scotland. Smyth warned that they will need to improve and tidy up in some key areas if they are to achieve that goal.
“We created a few (scoring) opportunities against Wales but we needed to be a bit more clinical. The way the Welsh defended was very powerful throughout. We struggled to cope with Wales’ driving lineouts and the most disappointing thing about that is we gave them field position to get the driving lineouts,” he admitted.
“They can be very hard to stop from five metres out so I think the indiscipline that gave them the driving lineouts is the worrying thing for me. We also need to protect the ball better because we gave the Welsh some easy scores. We’ve just got to be a little bit more difficult to beat.
“But it’s a good Welsh team who fully deserved their victory. We’ve got to be a lot smarter next time out and our discipline has to be a lot better. I thought the way our boys reacted was superb and we showed a lot of character to get back into the game (having been 18 points down on two occasions).”
The Leinster Rugby Academy manager was full of praise for Scotland who have claimed the scalps of England (32-27) and France (24-21), adding: “The Scots are a very strong side who have got a powerful set piece and we will have to be at our best to beat them. We need to be at our best but it’s very important for us to finish this festival on a high. It has been a fantastic experience for the boys and it has been an excellent festival of rugby.”