Wolfpuppies Show Grit


The Ireland U20s opened their Junior World Championship campaign with an incredible 23-19 win over hosts South Africa yesterday. The ‘Wolfpuppies’ put in a phenomenal defensive effort, with both of their tries coming from blocked-down South African kicks. Irish captain Niall Scannell summed it up neatly for us in his post-match interview when he said that the Irish focus in the build-up had been on early, low tackles followed by other defenders getting in over the ball.

Ireland were excellent at the breakdown, and put that plan into perfect effect. The Baby Boks became extremely frustrated with the Irish side’s eagerness to compete at every ruck. The number of turnovers in Ireland’s favour at the breakdown was truly decisive. When the hosts did manage to get through a few phases, they scored their solitary try through Lions lock Paul Willemse. That period of pressure aside, Mike Ruddock’s Irish team managed to make the South Africans possession very scrappy.

There were some promising individual displays too for the Irish. JJ Hanrahan at outhalf maintained his cool throughout. His decision to pop over a drop-goal in the 56th minute to put Ireland 16-10 in front was particularly impressive. Similarly, his scything line-break in the first-half showed his awareness, as well a sharp turn of pace. The Kerryman will hope that New Zealand U20 and new Munster coach Rob Penney was watching the game, as his performance will have greatly impressed.


Irish U20s captain Niall Scannell (diving for ball) in Dolphin colours. (c) Liam Coughlan.

Tadhg Furlong at tighthead was immense in locking out the Irish scrum. Opposite him at loosehead for the Boks was Steven Kitshoff, already first-choice for the Stomers, who are 2nd in the overall Super Rugby table. But Furlong was the winner of their battle. Apart from one occasion late in the second-half, the Irish dealt capably with the South African scrum. Furlong played a vital role. As highlighted by the Demented Mole, the Wexford man is a serious prospect.

Iain Henderson burst onto the scene with this try against Munster last month. The Ulster man put in a superb shift yesterday evening from the second-row. He has played plenty of rugby at 6, and it’s easy to see why. He’s a real physical presence and has a massive engine. He never let up against the Baby Boks. Again, the Mole picked Henderson out as one to watch, and was not mistaken. There’s a real shade of Stephen Ferris in Henderson and we’ll certainly be seeing more of him next season for Ulster.

Picking out three individual players is probably not fair though, as this was a concentrated team effort from Ireland. Their willingness to throw their bodies into every collision was unwavering. Ruddock clearly had instilled the belief into his side that they could win this game. That was evident in the way Ireland came back from a shaky start, when it looked like the Boks might become dominant. We saw a few short passages of attacking cutting-edge from Ireland which bodes well, but this win was all about the physical side of the game.


Hopefully the senior Irish squad took in the game, because the effort from the U20s was inspirational. This must count as one of the best-ever wins for Ireland at any underage level. Beating South Africa anywhere at this level is special, but to do so in their own back yard adds another dimension. Ireland now turn their focus to the match against England on Friday. The English ran in 9 tries in a 64-5 win over Italy earlier today (video above).

The memory of losing the Six Nations Grand Slam decider to England back in March will still be fresh in the memory for Ruddock and his squad. That game swung in England’s favour off the back of Irish errors and a lack of physicality. They will have learned their lesson and now the confidence will be up. Best of luck lads, there’ll be plenty of us watching on!

What did you think of the Irish win over South Africa? Which players stood out for you? Drop a comment below…


Photos courtesy: Liam Coughlan.

9 responses to “Wolfpuppies Show Grit

  1. Roryokane_raz_

    Furlongs destruction of Steven Kitshoff in the first half shows he is the heir apparent to Ross, and that he wouldn’t be out of place in international rugby, a mighty prospect.

    • Yeah definitely excited about Furlong’s potential after seeing him play a full match for the first time. An absolute beast of a young fella! Wonder how long before we’ll see him get a game for Leinster? With Hagan and Bent presumably ahead of him, could be frustrating. The fact that Kitshoff already starts for the Stormers is incredible!

  2. Roryokane_raz_

    Also Conan at 8 and Gilsian were outstanding, as was coughlan just worrying that being from leinster their progression will stall with lack of gametime like leinster have 8)heaslip, au’va, J.Murphy, Conan 7)Sob, Jennings, ryan, Gilsian 6) McLaughlin, Ruddock, Coughlan, some of them sould move to munster or ulster where they’d surely get more game time

    • That’s definitely a worry. Especially when you look at the Australian and South African U20 squads and plenty of their guys are already playing Super Rugby. The players you mentioned are nowhere near a sniff od the PRO12, never mind the Heineken Cup. I’m always preaching on about it, but the IRFU have to find a way for these young players to play more high-level rugby. Whether that’s at Connacht, by moving abroad or by getting a Sevens squad on the circuit, it needs to be addressed!

  3. Roryokane_raz_

    It really annoys me I remember the ireland u20 Th in 2010 stewart magurie was a huge prospect and with virtually no game time in two years he seems to went off the map. Then we refer to 24 year olds who should be approaching their prime as prospects on the basis that they’ve played very few games, McFadden, Donnacha Ryan, Dave Foley, Duncan Williams Ian Porter, Johnny Sexton (pre heiniken cup semi-final) and Tommy O’Donnell all spring to mind. There are too many top young irish prospects unfulfilled at the moment and it needs to be addressed. The 7’s circuit would undoubtably help the backs and the backrow, (Ireland having a 7’s team is something i feel strongly about) the front 5 needs experience, like Leinster have Hagan Bent Furlong O’Connell and Ross for next season, at least one of them should leave, this is especially annoying when ireland need a tight head and Munster have Botha, Connacht have White and Ah You and Ulster have the brilliant afoa blocking the exciting Fitzpatrick and Macklin, so ireland now are in the scenario where if Mike Ross is injured (like vs England or possibly the 1st test vs Nz Ireland are up shits creek) this is helped by the myth ireland dont have good props the reality is they don’t get exposed, props getting played and outmanovured in the scrum is part of the development of the props. And being 3rd choice at a province will and getting the odd A game will do nothing for anyone

  4. Yeah it’s definitely a big problem and you’ve highlighted all the strong examples. Having only 4 top-level teams is prohibiting our young players getting a chance. NZ, Oz and SA only have five Super Rugby teams each but still manage to get far more young players into their first XVs. Even beyond that, the likes of the ITM Cup, Currie Cup and those provincial tournaments are good quality, above the A games here I would reckon. Young Irish players need more high-level exposure and there are definitely options to make it happen!

  5. Cillian Hogan

    The problem with the A teams is that their opposition is usually quite poor and the games are often high scoring affairs. You’d pick up much more tricks when thrown in the trenches of a closely contested match. We all agree we need a sevens squad. This will only cater for 12 to 16 players and some would need to be sevens specialists. As for tight 5 players being developed. Why not put greater emphasis on our own AIL. Plenty of players from 1A and a few from 1B have found pro contracts in England’s championship on the back of playing to this standard at home. The games RTE showed this season and last were of a very high standard.

    • Yeah the AIL is an interesting one. I think that at the moment, only 2 provincially contracted players per team are allowed in each match. And only one can be a forward. So the IRFU are limiting the chances for Leinster, Munster and Ulster’s fringe players to play for AIL clubs. The rule doesn’t apply to Academy players so most of them play for their AIL clubs when there’s not A matches on.

      Still, the Ulster Bank League seems like a separate entity to the four provinces. In the last decade, it has never really felt like a place to earn a chance with the provinces, as the ITM Cup in New Zealand would earn you a shot at Super Rugby. There needs to be more support and promotion of the idea of succession in that way. RTE showing those games at the end of the season was really positive, now surely the next step is to have a live game every weekend or even a dedicated highlights show each week.

      I know some people are in favour of re-inventing the club game in Ireland. Anyone got other suggestions as to how better we can expose talented young players to high-level rugby?

      • Cillian Hogan

        You’re correct about the 2 players only rule. It was created for all the clubs competing across the 4 divisions as a compromise. Some clubs were in a position to field half a pro team while others had none. Considering Leinster used 49 players this season, an increase to the quota from 2 to 5 would be very progressive with a 2/3 split either forwards or backs. It would probably have to be limited 1A & B, leaving the current 2 player quota for those in 2A & B.

        The IRFU did stream a few live games during the season but much more could have been done to inform the rugby public. If the numbers watching got big enough, TV might pick it up.

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