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Where are they now? The 2023 Ireland U20 Championship runners-up team

By Liam Heagney
Ireland's Ruadhan Quinn celebrates beating South Africa in the semi-final (Photo by World Rugby via Getty Images)

Ireland went into last year’s World Rugby U20 Championship with very high hopes after clinching their second successive Six Nations age-grade Grand Slam and they lived up to that hype in the pool stages, following a high-scoring opening round draw with England in Paarl with victories over Australia and Fiji.

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That latter win was particularly heroic: the squad had been struck by the tragedy, the death of one player’s father, former Scotland international Greig Oliver, in an accident in Cape Town.

Ireland then defeated the hosts South Africa in the semi-finals, but the ambition to win a first-ever U20 Championship fell at the final hurdle as France, a team they had beaten in the Six Nations, proved far too strong at Athlone, the French winning 14-50.

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Head coach Richie Murphy has since relinquished the reins, moving to Ulster following this season’s second-place Six Nations finish. Here is what has happened to his match day 23 from 11 months ago:

15. Henry McErlean: The Terenure full-back has progressed at Leinster since last year’s age-grade final, making three URC appearances for Leo Cullen’s side. That exposure included a return to Cape Town when he was an April starter versus the Stormers.

14. Andrew Osborne: The Naas winger is the younger brother of Leinster’s Champions Cup final midfielder Jamie. He is now on the academy books for the province but has yet to debut.

13. Hugh Gavin: Attached to Galwegians when picked for the final, the midfielder has been back on the Ireland scene this season. He started all five recent Six Nations games and is heading to Cape Town for 2024’s age-grade tournament as a Connacht first-team squad member who is still waiting for his debut after two academy years.

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12. John Devine: An ever-present in the run to the final in Cape Town, the Corinthians midfielder, the younger brother of URC pick Matthew, has just finished his second season as part of the Connacht academy.

11. James Nicholson: The efforts of the UCD winger in South Africa didn’t go unnoticed because he was soon snapped by the Connacht academy.

10. Sam Prendergast: Went to South Africa with a pair of Leinster first-team appearances to his name in what was his first year in the provincial academy. The Lansdowne player was soon upgraded to a senior contract and after 16 outings this season, he has been named in Andy Farrell’s Test tour squad for South Africa.

9. Fintan Gunne: The Terenure scrum-half has spent his post-Championship season as part of the Leinster academy where his progress was rewarded by three outings as a URC replacement.

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1. Paddy McCarthy: Another from the U20s side who is making his way with the Leinster academy. The Dublin University prop featured four times as a sub in the URC at the start of the season when the province’s front liners were away on Ireland Rugby World Cup duty.

2. Gus McCarthy: Last year’s U20s skipper. His pathway route included captaining Blackrock to Leinster Schools Cup glory. Now part of the province’s academy, he made his senior debut in April back in Cape Town when Leinster played away at the Stormers in the URC.

3. Ronan Foxe: The tighthead arrived in South Africa having made 13 first-team appearances with the Old Belvedere club in Dublin after coming through the youth ranks at Midland Warriors and Tullamore. It was October when the now Garryowen front-rower was recruited by the Munster academy.

4. Diarmuid Mangan: The UCD second row is another who has embarked on the Leinster academy pathway which has so far realised three URC appearances, including a first start in April at the Lions in Pretoria.

5. Conor O’Tighearnaigh: It was April last year, a few months before the Cape Town tournament, when the UCD second row made a first-team debut for Leinster off their bench away to the Bulls in Pretoria. Has continued his academy journey this season with three more sub appearances in the URC, including a return to South Africa in April.

6. James McNabney: The Ballymena back-rower returned from the World Cup determined to make the breakthrough at Ulster and he succeeded with three starts, including a selection as No8 in last December’s Investec Champions Cup game away at Bath.

7. Ruadhan Quinn: One of few Irish players to have tasted first-team provincial rugby before the age-grade World Cup as the Old Crescent back-rower had played three times off the Munster URC bench. Went on to make four more appearances with this team this season, including a first start away to the Scarlets in February.

8. Brian Gleeson: A player about whom there has been much hype. Is back in Cape Town with the Ireland class of 2024 after a breakthrough season at Munster where he played 10 times off their bench and recently learned he will be promoted to their senior squad from the academy for 2024/25.

Replacements:

16. Max Clein: The sub hooker behind captain McCarthy, he came into the tournament having played AIL first team for Garryowen. Was signed by the Munster academy at the same time last October as Foxe.

17. George Hadden: The Leinster underage pathway was how the loosehead from Gorey developed but he was signed by the Munster academy following the World Cup and has changed clubs, moving from Clontarf to Garryowen.

18. Fiachna Barrett: Attached to the Corinthians club when selected for Ireland age-grade, the back-up tighthead can be found on the books at the Connacht academy.

19. Charlie Irvine: The Queen’s University lock is now part of the Ulster academy set-up while continuing his medical studies.

20. Evan O’Connell: It was October 2022 when the nephew of the legendary Paul O’Connell created headlines with a URC debut for Munster. Has since been quietly learning his trade in the academy via UL Bohs and having been a back-up pick last term, he is now Willie Faloon’s skipper for the 2024 World Cup having led Ireland through an unbeaten Six Nations.

21. Oscar Cawley: The Naas scrum-half was the bench pick for the final following Jack Oliver’s family tragedy. Having not been picked up by any of the provincial academies, he is progressing his game as a Trinity College academy scholar.

22. Matt Lynch: The Terenure graduate has continued his development in the year since the final at Dublin University.

23. Sam Berman: Was attached to Dublin University when chosen for the age-grade finals. Re-emerged at Terenure this season following an injury and his progress there has resulted in an offer to join the Ulster academy for 2024/25.

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2 Comments
D
Darragh 24 days ago

Ruadhan spent last season playing in division 1A of the AIL with Young Munster.

R
Rob 24 days ago

Andrew Osbourne has played twice in the URC this year, starting at home to Zebre and away to the lions where he was injured. Please do a tiny bit of sub surface research this information took me 30 seconds to find on google

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finn 6 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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