The name Brian Gleeson could become a constant in Munster and Irish Rugby over the next 15 years. The bulldozing number 8 has already established himself as one of the most promising young players on the island.
Gleeson, who turns 20 next Monday, was in talismanic form last season for the Ireland Under-20s (sponsored by PwC), helping them to win the U-20 Six Nations Grand Slam before reaching July’s World Rugby U-20 Championship final in South Africa.
Hailing from Loughmore in County Tipperary, the highly-rated back rower scored eight tries in ten appearances for the Ireland U-20s last year, collecting four player-of-the-match awards in the process.
Primed for his second campaign with Richie Murphy’s national side, Gleeson is relishing the challenges that lie ahead for the defending champions over the next six weeks.
Their first round fixture is an intriguing rematch with the only team that beat them last season, World U-20 champions France, in Aix-en-Provence this Saturday night (kick-off 9.10pm local time/8.10pm Irish time – live on Virgin Media Two).
Looking to use his experience from 2023 to help the many debutants in Murphy’s current U-20 squad, Gleeson said: “I am delighted to be back. I’m not the only one on the team from last year. Between the five of us that were there, we are sharing what we know.
“The first game last year was away to Wales and for my first experience playing that level of international rugby, I took a lot from it.
“Even small things like the national anthem and getting a bit shaken up after hearing that, because you wouldn’t hear that playing in the AIL or schools rugby before a game.
“It is something that I had to get used to. We were saying to the lads that once you have that out of the way and you get that first run, we should be ready to go.”
He knows exactly what Sébastien Calvet’s charges will bring to the table. Returning number 8 Mathis Castro-Ferreira, who has Top 14 experience with Toulouse, will captain the France Under-20s, and vice-captain, Brive’s Léo Carbonneau, is another key player at scrum half.
Gleeson, who touched down during Ireland’s thrilling 33-31 home win over France twelve months ago, is fully aware that they will have to put together another top class performance if they want to repeat last season’s result.
It is whoever wants it more. In the Six Nations last year we got a yellow card but we stuck in that fight. We had the home crowd behind us which helped.
“If we can stick together as a team, that is what we were talking about all week, sticking together as a team.
“With the French crowd, 10,000 of them, it gets noisy. If something does go wrong, if they score an early try, it’s about us getting back in the game.
“Playing away from home in an environment like that it is easy for the game to get away (from you). It is up to us that we settle well and bring the game to them.”
The former Tipperary underage hurler is in his first year with the Munster Academy. He has had a busy season already, making six appearances off the bench in the BKT United Rugby Championship, and scoring his first try against the Dragons.
Notably, he also played in three of Munster’s recent Investec Champions Cup pool matches, coming on at both Exeter Chiefs and Toulon before getting 41 minutes under his belt at home to Northampton Saints last time out.
He is enjoying working with some high-quality coaches in the provincial and national set-ups, saying: “For me having worked with some unbelievable coaches, here (with the Ireland U-20s) and at Munster, I love going to coaches looking for feedback.
“I would say I am a visual learner. Going to Denis Leamy in defence and Mike Prendergast in attack (at Munster), they are very helpful.
“They have shown great interest in trying to make me a better player. In training they are harsh and critical if I’m not doing things right, which is great.
“It is the smaller things that are helping me get better. I am still young and have a lot more to go, I just need to keep it going with feedback. Every game I hope to get better.”
Munster players and fans have always had a magical connection with the Champions Cup. Some of their greatest days have come in EPCR’s top-tier tournament, with many of the province’s youngest supporters making memories that will stay with them for a lifetime.
The Thomond Park stands and terraces draw many starry-eyed youngsters who want to follow in the footsteps of their heroes and become professional rugby players, wearing the famous red jersey of Munster.
Gleeson became one of the lucky few to earn an Academy place with his home province, and his development was accelerated by his first two Champions Cup run-outs in December. His early call-up to European rugby’s biggest stage was a pleasant surprise.
“I certainly didn’t expect to be playing European rugby at the start of the season, but I’ve loved it and I’ve learned a lot from it,” admitted the strong-carrying Garryowen clubman.
“I played in Exeter, Toulon, and Thomond Park, all different atmospheres, you learn a lot from it. You mature as a player and so does your overall game because you’re playing against some of the best players in the world, full internationals.
“I grew up watching Munster in the Champions Cup, so getting to represent Munster in the Champions Cup is fantastic.”
His own personal favourite Champions Cup memory was when Andrew Conway ran in a superb solo score from just inside halfway during their 2018 quarter-final defeat of Toulon. It was voted Munster’s try of the season.
“I watched all the games in Thomond. The one that stands out to me is Andrew Conway’s try against Toulon. I’d say I was young enough when that happened but that sticks with me.
“The roar that Thomond gives on a Champions Cup day is class. To be able to say I’ve experienced it, it doesn’t let you down,” he added.
Tickets for the Ireland U-20s’ home matches at Virgin Media Park in Cork are available to purchase now via Ticketmaster.ie. They have three Friday Night Lights clashes with Italy (February 9), Wales (February 23), and Scotland in the final round on March 15.