Ireland Under-18 Schools head coach Peter Smyth hopes his talented group of teenage players can learn from their U-18 Six Nations Festival experience as they continue their development.
Scotland came from behind to win a very exciting Easter Sunday contest at Gloucester’s Kingsholm, a conversion in the final seconds handing them a 42-40 victory. Ireland’s four tries came from Harry O’Riordan (2), Alex Soroka and Conor McKee, with Chris Cosgrave (17 points) and Nathan Doak kicking the other points.
And while the result meant that Ireland’s youngsters finished the tournament without a win – they were also narrowly beaten by France (29-24) and England (24-17) – Smyth said there were many positives to come out of the competition.
“It’s been frustrating, that’s been the story of our tournament and particularly against Scotland – I think we won that game four times,” admitted the Leinster Rugby Academy manager. “We let them back in each time and all credit to them, they never lay down and the scoreboard says they were worthy winners.
“But we have learned some very harsh lessons and we easily could have been talking about three victories rather than being on the other side of it. I’ve told the lads that we are exceedingly proud of their efforts.
“The feelings now we all have will be worthwhile in twelve months’ time in the Ireland Under-19s and then in the Ireland Under-20s as long as we can improve with some of the mistakes we are making.”
The festival’s previous games were played at Hartpury College, where all six national squads were based, and at Worcester’s impressive Sixways Stadium with plenty of supporters watching each round of matches. It was the ideal environment for these young players to put their best foot forward and represent their countries against elite Under-18 opposition.
Smyth, whose side averaged 27 points per game, added: “A tournament like this is huge because of the level of competition and exposure that our players are getting along with the lessons they’re learning, the stadiums they’re playing in and they’re being reffed by referees from different countries.
“It’s been a fantastic tournament and it’s been a great experience for all our players even though it’s finished on a slightly disappointing note for us but this is all about pushing them through to the next level.”
Joining the six returning players from last year’s festival, a total of 20 players made their Ireland Under-18 Schools debuts in Gloucester and Worcester. Captain Alex Kendellen led by example from number 8 – he was ever-present along with Cosgrave, who top-scored with 33 points, and second rows Darragh Murray and Soroka.
IRELAND UNDER-18 SCHOOLS – U-18 SIX NATIONS FESTIVAL RESULTS:
Ireland Under-18 Schools 24 France Under-18s 29, Hartpury College, Gloucester
England Under-18s 24 Ireland Under-18 Schools 17, Sixways Stadium, Worcester
Ireland Under-18 Schools 40 Scotland Under-18s 42, Kingsholm, Gloucester