Tighthead prop Sam Illo realised a long-held ambition when he helped Ireland kick off their Under-20 Six Nations campaign with a convincing 38-7 bonus point victory over Scotland.
Lining up alongside Leinster team-mates Temi Lasisi and Ronan Loughnane in the front row, Illo played his part in getting the defending champions up and running in Cardiff.
Having been a consistent performer at schools level with Wesley College, he had his sights set on picking up an Ireland Under-20 cap for quite a while.
The delayed return of age-grade internationals due to the Covid-19 pandemic meant he was forced to bide his time, but he was glad to achieve a significant milestone on Saturday.
“It was a great experience and I looked forward to it all week, possibly months as well, to just hit the ground running. It was very good,” he admitted after the game.
“It’s hard to describe, I’m lost for words. It’s something I’ve looked for, for the past number of years of playing rugby. To put on a 20s jersey.
“In school as well, you always see the older lads and you’re like, ‘ah, how I’d love to be there’. To do that today and then get the win was just unbelievable to be honest.”
Despite what the final scoreline might indicate, this was a tough battle – especially during the first half. It was not until Scotland flanker Harri Morris was red carded just after the breakthat Ireland really started to motor.
Illo and his team-mates had been primed for the physicality that Scotland were going to bring, and it was a satisfying afternoon’s work for the Irish scrum.
We knew it was going to be a physical battle. That’s what all the coaches had been saying to us. We prepped for it a lot, to be honest. We knew what was coming.
“We’ve done a lot of work with (forwards coach) Collie (Tucker). He says we’ve got to love our set-pieces!
“We really worked hard on the scrums so it was good to get a few penalties and scrum well for the team.”
After putting in a strong 58-minute shift, Illo will be eager for more opportunities in the green jersey – beginning with next Friday’s clash with tournament hosts Wales at the same venue.
Nonetheless, given how fortunate he felt to be making his debut, the 18-and-a-half stone front rower will not be taking anything for granted.
“It’s something you work hard for all those years and then you finally put it on. It’s unbelievable as well.
“Not too many people get to put on a green jersey. To be one of those few chosen to put it on, it does mean a lot,” he added.