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Irvine Taking ‘Full Grasp’ Of Ireland Under-20 Opportunities

Irvine Taking ‘Full Grasp’ Of Ireland Under-20 Opportunities

Charlie Irvine celebrates after Diarmuid Mangan crossed for the Ireland Under-20s' bonus point try against Australia in Paarl ©World Rugby/World Rugby for Getty Images

Ulster’s Charlie Irvine will make only his third ever start for the Ireland Under-20s (sponsored by PwC) when they battle it out with hosts South Africa in Sunday’s World Rugby U-20 Championship semi-final (kick-off 4.30pm local time/3.30pm Irish time).

The Ulster Academy lock made his debut for the team during the U-20 Six Nations Summer Series last year where he made four appearances. He was part of the initial squad for the U-20 Six Nations this year but did not make any appearances.

Irvine has featured in the last two games, most noticeably in the 30-10 bonus point win over Australia where he put in a solid showing. He is delighted to be getting the opportunities now, grasping them with both hands.

“I wasn’t selected. Obviously it is seriously competitive and what we had going during the Six Nations was working, so I didn’t get the opportunity. But now I’ve got the opportunity and I’m taking it full grasp,” he said.

“I’ve been working hard. I did have a small injury at the end of the U-20 Six Nations. I was able to really go after my physical size and I’ve definitely got bigger.

“But again, I’ve been working hard in the background with Queen’s (University) playing good consistent matches there, training hard. I think it’s definitely helped me.”

It has been both an enjoyable and busy few months for the 20-year-old, who helped Queen’s win the Energia All-Ireland League Men’s Division 2A title while also training with Ulster, as well as juggling college life as a medical student.

He has taken all of it in his stride, admitting: “It’s been really enjoyable for the last couple of months. Just getting to play, enjoying training, and just enjoying the environment. It’s pretty flat out, but I’m liking it a lot.”

When asked about how he manages his University commitments alongside the demands of his rugby career, he agreed that it is a challenge.

“It’s tough enough. It’s fairly flat out. You’re studying, you’re training, you’re back to studying, ‘gyming’. There’s not a lot of rest, but it’s fine. I’m able to do it, so I’ll keep going.”

Irvine made a short cameo off the bench when the Ireland U-20s last lined out against South Africa in Verona twelve months ago. He is under no illusions as to how tough of a physical test it will be for them again on Sunday.

“They are sort of very similar. South African teams all have that similar blueprint where they’ve got the big forwards who will be powerful on the ball. Good ball carriers and then their speedy backs where they are going to try and take you on one-on-one,” he highlighted.

Coming into the semi-final a lot has been made of the South African lineout, which has not really been firing on all cylinders in the last couple of games, particularly against Argentina. Irvine admitted it is an area that they are looking to target.

“Obviously we are going to look at it and see where we can go after them. But, as Richie said, they were playing an Argentinian team that would pride themselves on set-piece, but it wasn’t going to be easy for them and hopefully we can continue that going through.”

The former Wallace High School pupil believes that Ireland’s mentality has remained the same throughout the tournament, echoing the earlier message of his head coach.

“We know where we are at, we know where we need to be at. Keep going forward. Treat every game like a final almost, and keep it moment-focused towards them.”

It has been a difficult week for everyone involved with the Ireland squad after the tragedies off the pitch. It has affected both the management staff and players alike. Irvine said he is really proud of how they all managed the last couple of days.

“It’s tough as you can understand. That day before the match, it was pretty shocking news. I think we did really well to come together as a team, we’re real close as a squad and we were able to go out there against Fiji and win which is the important thing.

“We’ve moved forward now, we’re almost two days after, but as Richie said yesterday and today we’re really primarily looking forward to Sunday for this match against South Africa.”

For any young athlete to represent their country on this stage is a huge honour. It is a semi-final of a World Rugby U-20 Championship, moments like these are few and far between. It is an opportunity that Irvine is clearly relishing.

“It is a massive opportunity and something I’m seriously proud of to be able to get myself in that position,” he added.

“I’ve worked hard and I’ve had opportunities and sometimes it just happens. I’m real happy for it, looking to keep going forward with it.”