Ireland U20s Head Coach Richie Murphy admits it was a difficult task to select a Match Day squad for his side’s U20 Six Nations Championship opener against Scotland at Cardiff Arms Park on Saturday afternoon (Kick-off 2pm, live on RTÉ 1 and BBC iPlayer).
From an overall squad of 34, Murphy has named 26 players for this long-awaited contest, as Ireland U20s return to action for the first time since February 2020. The standard 23 players can be used over the course of the 80 minutes in Cardiff, but Murphy is grateful to have additional options amongst the replacements given the general lack of game-time his troops have had coming into the Championship.
“One of the big issues that we’ve had all the way through this process is the fact that the players haven’t actually played that much rugby. Some of them coming from all different sorts of backgrounds. Some guys coming in from clubs on National Talent Squad programmes and some guys training with their senior Provincial set-ups,” Murphy remarked during Friday’s virtual pre-match press conference from Cardiff.
“We’ve been trying to balance up all of that over the last while and then obviously make a selection on the back of it. Obviously we’ve picked up a few injuries along the way, which have been disappointing for those boys and for the group.
“With where we’re at and knowing that we’re playing against Scotland, and knowing the strength that they have, we feel that we’ve picked the right team for this week.”
Despite only announcing his squad for the Championship last Thursday week, Murphy has already been forced to make two alterations to his panel for injury-enforced reasons. Levi Vaughan and Will Reilly were drafted into the set-up at the beginning of this week in place of Lee Barron and Ben Murphy respectively.
Irish supporters may not get a chance to see the scrum-half Murphy – Richie’s son – over the next few weeks, but there will be plenty of interest in the progress of starting fly-half James Humphreys. The offspring of former Ireland international David Humphreys – and, by extension, the nephew of ex-Wolfhounds star Ian – the Queen’s University kicker will seek to carve out his own reputation in the Welsh capital.
“It’s a difficult one for him because obviously he’s got an uncle and a father who’ve gone before him. I think James is very much his own man. He has come into the group and has applied himself really well. He’s very diligent, he has a good rugby brain. He’s not too dissimilar to his father in his looks and how he carries himself.
“The way he kicks the ball, all those things. He is very much his own man and what we’re hoping for him tomorrow is that he can go out and play the game that he knows he can play. There’s no reason why he can’t do that.”
Like the Women’s Six Nations during the month of April, this U20 Championship will operate as a standalone affair. Traditionally held on the same weekend as its senior equivalent – usually on a Friday evening – the COVID-19 pandemic ensured it was reorganised outside of the established international window.
While Ireland were previously in the middle of a World Rugby U20 Championship campaign during this time of year, Murphy expects the spotlight to be even greater for his underage outfit on this occasion.
“Obviously a lot of rugby is coming to an end this weekend. It will give them a focus for the next couple of weeks and I think even the six-day turnaround, having rugby midweek, will give people the opportunity to sit in and watch the games.
“By the sounds of it, from what’s happening to my phone over the last 24 hours, it seems there’s a hell of a lot of interest in how the guys are going to go. I’m really happy with where they’re at. Tomorrow will see what the fruits of our work has been.”
Having worked alongside him for so long at both Leinster and Ireland, it comes as little surprise to learn that Joe Schmidt has been in touch with Murphy ahead of his first game in charge of the U20s. The former Presentation College Bray student has picked up a number of tips from the New Zealander down through the years and hopes he can bring them to bear as the Championship develops.
“I think it’s about being clear with your messages to the players, having a clear game plan. Having the guys take some ownership themselves and being able to drive it. I think if you were to ask our players going into the game, how we’re trying to set up. What we’re trying to do in attack, what we’re trying to do in defence, how our set-piece needs to go, I think they’d have a real good understanding of that.
“That’s one of the things that I learnt from Joe. His attention to detail was like no one else I’ve ever seen before. We’ve used some of that stuff that I’ve learnt from him over the years and some of the new stuff that I would have picked up over the last couple of years as well. I think every coach, no matter who you’ve worked with, you still have to have your own beliefs.
“You can’t copy anyone. Where I’ve been shaped a little bit by Joe and he’s given me great information in relation to how you analyse an opposition, on this occasion it hasn’t been too easy because we haven’t seen Scotland play. It’s one of those ones when you look at yourself, you’re going to be happy with what you see. So far I think our lads have done an incredible job of preparing for this game,” Murphy added.