He has packed a lot into the current season already, and now Leinster Academy back David Hawkshaw is primed for his latest career highlight as captain of the Ireland Under-20 captain.
For the fast-approaching Under-20 Six Nations, which begins with a tricky assignment against England at Irish Independent Park on Friday week, centre/out-half David Hawkshaw has been selected to lead the Ireland U-20 side into battle.
Whereas the captain at this grade has been selected by the players in recent seasons, Hawkshaw was instead the choice of the Noel McNamara-led coaching team. This is a clear sign of the trust that has been placed in the Clontarf clubman, who views their first round opponents as the benchmark for U-20 international rugby.
“You know with England over the last few years that they have a good pool of players to pick from,” explained Hawkshaw. “As you have seen over the last few years they have been very successful. These are the games that you look forward to.
“Taking on England down in Cork are the games you want to be involved in. It’s going to be great. We are really looking forward to putting in a good performance and getting the tournament off to a good start.”
Despite posing a threat right across the board, Marcus Smith is the obvious standout within the England Under-20 ranks. Still a few weeks shy of his 20th birthday, the precocious out-half has already clocked up 28 appearances for English Premiership club Harlequins.
Before helping England finish as runners-ups at last summer’s World Rugby U-20 Championship in France, Smith was also part of Eddie Jones’ senior training squad for their 2018 Six Nations campaign.
All of this makes the Manila-born prodigy a formidable foe for the Ireland U-20s next week, but Hawkshaw believes playing against Smith and others will be an ideal opportunity to judge his own progression.
“Marcus is an incredible player as you can see with Harlequins and what he has been doing. I think the boys played him at U-18 level with the Ireland U-18s in Wales and he was very good then. As I said with taking on teams like England and players like that, you want to judge yourself against the best and play up against the best.
“Marcus Smith has been performing and he has been playing at a high level, so we don’t know how we are going to shut him down but it’s great to have him out there. You want a player like that out there so you can measure yourself.”
In addition to playing his part in the Leinster ‘A’ team’s inaugural Celtic Cup success this season, Hawkshaw has featured for Clontarf on a number of occasions in the top flight of the All-Ireland League.
While he awaits his opportunity in Leinster’s senior ranks, his former Belvedere College team-mate Hugh O’Sullivan is currently taking that giant leap into the professional arena. A Leinster Schools Senior Cup winner alongside Hawkshaw in 2016 and 2017. O’Sullivan made his European debut off the bench against Wasps last week to take his Leinster caps haul to seven
Hawkshaw takes considerable inspiration from his Academy colleague, saying: “Hugh is a different class in a way in that he is always someone I would have looked up to since he came into first year, once I got to know him. His attitude to the game and the way he conducts himself is just top class.
“He deserves it (the senior recognition with Leinster). He’s been absolutely flying this year and had a great year last year with the Under-20s. There is always someone there that you want to chase and I’m just delighted to see him up there.”
Although rugby has proven to be the sport of choice for O’Sullivan, his older brothers Mark and Cillian have represented the Meath in hurling and Gaelic football respectively. It is quite common for players to strike a balance between different disciplines in Belvedere College, with All-Ireland football winners Jack McCaffrey and Ger Brennan counting themselves as past pupils.
Hawkshaw is another ‘Belvo graduate who possesses a strong GAA background – he was part of the Dublin minor hurling team that won the Leinster title before losing to Limerick in the 2016 All-Ireland minor semi-final.
He had played with St. Brigid’s in west Dublin since a young age but was ultimately persuaded by the potential of full-time rugby, adding: “It was tough to combine both, but I was passionate about sports and I loved both sports. I had a few of the GAA coaches to thank a lot. The likes of Keith Barr, Johnny McGurk, two past Dublin players. They put a lot of work into me in previous years and that helped me a lot with the rugby.
“It was busy enough now, but I loved it. It was very easy to go to the sessions and play games when you were enjoying going to them. The body would have been a bit sore by the end of the week. Rugby was always something that I loved playing since my first few days down in Coolmine.
“It was something that I always loved. Watching my older brother, he is a few years ahead of me now, in Belvedere. It was something that I was always very passionate about and always something I wanted to give my best shot in.”