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Murphy And Ward Making Good Strides With Ireland Under-20s

Murphy And Ward Making Good Strides With Ireland Under-20s

Luke Murphy is looking to finish his first Under-20 Six Nations campaign on a high on home soil ©INPHO/Ben Brady

Number 8 Luke Murphy was the man of the moment for the Ireland Under-20 Men’s team last week, as his last-gasp converted try earned them a vital 32-all draw with England in Bath.

The PwC-sponsored Ireland Under-20s’ never-say-die attitude kept their hopes of a third consecutive U-20 Six Nations title alive. They sit second in the table, just a point behind England who play France in Pau tonight.

The 19-year-old Murphy has really stepped up to the mark in the injury-enforced absence of Brian Gleeson, who has been sidelined with an ankle injury since the 37-31 first round win over France.

Murphy, who is eligible for this age-grade again next year, has impressed in the green jersey these last few weeks, taking his opportunity with both hands.

The Cratloe native was quick to credit the hard work of his team-mates to set up his score right at the death at the Recreation Ground, insisting: “Firstly it was a real team try. We had a minute-and-a-half left and I know if I was watching the match I would have thought that we wouldn’t have been able to bring it back.

“But just the team we have, everyone pulled together. When we were on the pitch we knew we were going to score, it was just a matter of who it was.

“I was just the one who got lucky, after a few carries close to the line. After the match, (I realised) it was a big try. At the moment you don’t think about it.”

The Shannon clubman decided to prioritise his rugby ambitions instead of continuing to play GAA. His father is a Malahide man, who played for Young Munster, while his son started playing min rugby in Shannon before attending Ardscoil Rís in Limerick.

He has enjoyed learning from the likes of the vastly-experienced Lee Nicholas and former Ireland U-20 international Kelvin Brown in the blue and black hooped shirt of Shannon.

“I’ve known Lee longer than Kelvin. Lee was my coach in Under-18 Schools in Munster when we won the Interpros, alongside (current Ireland U-20 attack coach) Ian Keatley. I would have known Lee through that.

“I’d be fairly friendly with Kelvin’s younger brother Sam, who I played rugby with in school. Even just coming in and knowing the detail on some of the moves that they might have done years before. Lee is an excellent captain,” he added.

Speaking about tonight’s final round opponents Scotland, as Ireland look to register a closing win at Virgin Media Park (kick-off 7pm – live on Virgin Media Two), Murphy commented: “This week was about focusing on ourselves and making sure that we get everything right, do as much as we can on the pitch.

“We never really have a perfect performance but some weeks we really improve on some aspects and then other weeks we might let something small slip. In general, we have all been good as a group and everyone knows their roles. It’s been really good.

“As a back row, Scotland have a tough strong pack, a very good maul, and just to be physical throughout the game, that is my focus.”

A constant in Richie Murphy’s ever-changing starting pack has been Ulster’s Bryn Ward. He is a traditional openside flanker, always doing the often rarely praised unseen work in both defence and at the breakdown.

He is the son of former Ulster player and 1999 European Cup winner, Andy, who was capped 28 times for Ireland. His older brother, Zac, is creating his own path with the Ireland Sevens team as they build towards the Paris Olympics this summer.

Asked if he ever gets advice from either his dad or his brother, he replied: “Yeah, I say more recently and especially from my brother. All the family give you advice but I am really close to my brother.

“Him going to the Sevens, making that change from 15s, he’s been giving me a lot of advice and tips around how to cope with a lot of things inside and outside the game.”

Zac is also an openside when he plays 15s before making the switch. Bryn explained how reading New Zealand great Richie McCaw’s book helped him understand what is necessary to succeed at the highest level. He believes fitness is a key attribute that every high-operating back rower must have.

“The main thing is just about how fit you’ve got to be to play in the back row. My brother, for example, would probably be a bit fitter than me, moving over to the Sevens. The main thing is you need to be a lot fitter.

“I read Richie McCaw’s book, Zac told me to read that when I was younger. The first thing he said was his dad told him that the fitter you are the more you will enjoy the game.

“That was the main thing for me was just trying to be as fit as you can. You definitely need it in the last 20 minutes.

“Scotland are yet to put in an 80-minute performance, and fitness could be a big part of it this week so we can take them to that place where they can’t cope.”

Ward is the latest in a line of impressive Ulster back rowers that have come through the age-grade pathways in recent years. An U-20 Grand Slam winner in 2022 and 2023, James McNabney made his Ulster senior debut away to Glasgow Warriors earlier this season.

Reuben Crothers was the Ireland Under-20s’ Grand Slam-winning captain in 2022, while Harry Sheridan, who was part of the class of 2021, has produced some solid performances for his province over the last year.

Ward said tha some of his predecessors in the U-20 back row been a good support to him, noting: “After the England game, James McNabney was on to me telling me he’s made mistakes on the same things I’ve done. He’s given me a few tips on them.

“Reuben came in (to camp) and spoke to us before we headed to France because they had a famous victory over there. He just told us about what it will take to get the win over in France and it really helped.

“With ‘Sherry’ as well, he’s a class player and a really good guy to look up to. A lot of the stuff he would do might go unseen but I’d be the person to notice them.”