Sam Prendergast has quickly become a potential future star of Irish Rugby with his performances for province and country. He starts for the Ireland Under-20s in Saturday’s opening World Rugby U-20 Championship clash with England in South Africa.
It is the perfect opportunity for the prodigiously talented out-half to announce himself on the world stage, an early chapter in what is already shaping up to be a very promising rugby career.
The 20-year-old Kildare native has had a memorable season, learning his trade alongside some of the best players in Leinster, where he made his senior debut back in April against the Emirates Lions.
However, the highlight of this period undoubtably came when the Ireland Under-20s (sponsored by PwC) completed a Grand Slam-winning Six Nations campaign, during which Prendergast really came to the fore.
The past pupil of Newbridge College believes he has really benefited from the exposure to high level coaching, and he credits this for his continued development over the last year.
“I suppose I’ve obviously developed, but that’s probably down to a lot of the exposure in terms of coaching,” noted the player who stepped up to the U-20 grade at the Six Nations Summer Series in Italy twelve months ago.
“High-level coaching all summer with the coaches we have at the moment. Getting to train for the majority of the year with Leinster as well is pretty good.
“A huge part of development would have been the high level of coaching I’ve received and the high level of training that has led into games.”
Prendergast has always been able to rise to the occasion, even going back to his school days. He helped Newbridge College qualify for their first Leinster Schools Senior Cup final in 24 years when they caused an upset against St. Michael’s College at the semi-final stage in 2020.
He was selected as the player-of-the-match award winner on his Leinster debut, while also being one of the standout performers for the Ireland Under-20s during their recent Six Nations run.
He seemed to really enjoy his two weeks in South Africa with Leinster during the BKT United Rugby Championship. He made a couple of appearances, getting a taste for senior rugby at that level.
“All year, when I’ve been in with Leinster, I’ve just been prepping the lads to play for whichever game was coming,” he explained.
“It was nice to then be on the other side of that, prepping for the game myself and just being able to get that mentoring off the coaches preparing you for a game.
“That was kind of nice and then also being around quite experienced players like Rhys Ruddock, Ed Byrne, Max Deegan, Nick McCarthy. Lads like that who are able to help you through the week and show you little things to help, which is quite good.”
Rugby very much runs in the Prendergast family, with Sam’s older brother, Cian, having played for the Ireland U-20s back in 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of that year’s World Rugby U-20 Championship.
The versatile 23-year-old forward has since become a regular starter in Connacht, while he made his Ireland senior debut back in November. He is part of the Rugby World Cup training squad that is currently working away at the IRFU High Performance Centre. Sam admitted:
It’s been cool getting to see Cian develop as a player and become more professional. Getting to go to his games as well and seeing him succeed has been great.
“It’s a busy time for the family at the moment. He’s at home. I’d say he probably would have liked to have come over here to catch a couple of games, but he’s got more important things to be doing.
“Training and hopefully getting into the World Cup squad. But listen, it’s been great to see him succeed over the last couple of years.”
The Ireland Under-20s and the other competing teams have encountered some difficult training conditions this week given the heavy rain and strong wind in Cape Town.
Giving his take on things as the squad prepare to move on to Paarl, the venue for Ireland’s three Pool B games, he agreed: “It wasn’t ideal yesterday (Wednesday), but a lot of us would be used to not a great pitch.
“We wouldn’t have spoken about it too much, we just tried to get on with our training. If the pitch we’re playing on in the match is like that, so be it.
“We’ve got to adapt and got to be able to play on that pitch. We can’t really do much about it. We just need to be able to alter little bits of our game to suit those kinds of conditions.”
The first job at hand for Richie Murphy’s young guns is a tough test against old rivals England on Saturday (kick-off 1.30pm local time/12.30pm Irish time – live on Virgin Media Two/World Rugby platforms where there is no local broadcaster).
Prendergast says they are taking it one game at a time, adding: “None of us have thought past the England match. We are not thinking of the big picture. We’re just thinking about what we need to do better than the Six Nations and what we need to do to beat England.
“That’s our main aim. You see from previous Under-20 World Cups the quality of player that comes through. That’s great, but it also shows you what sort of opposition we will be up against.
“England have a lot of very good individuals, a very good back row, some outside backs that are very quick.
“They are a very powerful team and they did cause us a lot of problems at Musgrave Park (in March), so we are prepared for that and are hopefully better equipped to deal with that.”