MUNSTER players made significant contributions to the first time an Ireland U18 Schools team won two of their three games at the Six Nations Festival in France over Easter.
And there was also strong southern representation on the Ireland U19 side, which shared the two-match series with a France U20 Development team in games played in Belfast and Dublin.
Ireland Schools lost their opening game to the hosts in Marcoussis by 28-23, having been 13-0 ahead, a result which must be placed in context because of France playing three games as part of their preparations for the tournament.
In contrast, Ireland had so such luxury because of the proximity of the provincial cup finals, especially in Leinster, but coach Paul Barr (PBC) was still impressed with the performance under the circumstances.
“You could see that the familiarity was a problem for our boys,” he told the IRFU website.
“They were just weren’t familiar with each other as much as you would have liked.
“They compensated by just engaging with their own role in the game to the best of their ability.
“The subs came off the bench and put in the same kind of effort and we finished strongly.
“There’s no doubt, preparation time-wise and game-time-wise, we’re at a huge disadvantage and yet you wouldn’t have known it.
“That’s a credit to the boys, it really is, and they’ve taken to it like ducks to water.”
The starting 15 included Ben O’Connor (PBC) at full-back, Harry Long (Ardscoil Ris) at centre, Stephen Kiely (Castletroy College) on the left wing, Jake O’Riordan (St Munchin’s) at hooker, Evan O’Connell (Castletroy College) in the second-row and Rockwell College’s Brian Gleeson at number 8.
Introduced from the bench were PBC number 8 Jacob Sheahan and Emmet Calvey from Ardsoil Ris with Sheahan scoring one of the two tries.
There was disappointment for CBC second-row Kamil Novak, who injured his ankle in the warm-up and had to cry off for the rest of the tournament.
One of the competition’s rules is that every player in a squad must start at least one game and with that in mind Ireland made nine changes for the second game against Wales.
O’Connor started on the right wing, Danny Sheahan (PBC) at hooker, O’Connell and Jacob Sheahan with Gleeson, O’Riordan, Long and Kiely appearing off the bench.
Ireland held a narrow 20-19 lead at the interval, but dominated the second-half, scoring four tries in the process and six overall, including one from Danny Sheahan, to run out convincing 46-26 winners.
Ireland wrapped up the Festival against Italy with a starting 15 showing eight alerations, O’Connor reverting to full-back and being only one of five players to have started all three games.
The highly promising O’Connell was another as was Kilkenny College flanker Stephen Smyth.
O’Connor had the satisfaction of crossing for the opening try as Ireland established a winning position by half-time, leading by 26-0, as they ran out 40-14 winners with Danny Sheahan crossing for his second try in the tournament.
France went to record big wins over Scotland and Wales while England also won their three games albeit narrowly against Italy and Scotland.
Ireland U19s overcame the French 26-21 in their opening game in Belfast with the highly rated hooker, Conal Henchy from cup winners Crescent College Comprehensive, claiming two of the four tries.
Munster were represented by Crescent number 8 Ruadhan Quinn and backs wing Henry Buttimer (Rockwell College), centre Liam McCarthy (Bandon Grammar School) and scrum-half Andrew O’Mahony (UCC), who celebrated his 19th birthday during the week.
In game two in Dublin, Ireland raced into a 21-10 half-time lead only to be hit by wave after wave of French attacks as they hit Ireland with six tries in a 40-unanswered- point haul.
Quinn scored one of Ireland’s three tries in the first-half in a team which included Henchy, Midleton tight-head prop Danny McCarthy as well as out-half Jeff Williams (Bandon Grammar School) and Shannon’s Josh Costello.
It was Ireland’ first exposure to international rugby in two years because of the Pandemic and is sure to be of benefit down the line.