25 years of professional mens rugby in Ireland has seen Ireland win two Grand Slams, four Six Nations, and six Triple Crowns, while the provinces have won seven European Cups.
This is not bad for a small nation with low participation rates and a sparse playing population. The IRFU and the provinces built the framework for this success and these performances more than 25 years ago.
If you take a brief look at the composition of the teams who have achieved this success, you'll notice that the majority of the players have come through Irish rugby's age-grade pathway system. Since the beginning of rugby as a professional sport, Irish rugby has benefited greatly from this development pathway and has been able to maintain a competitive edge in international rugby.
The U20s pathway has seen Ireland win the Six Nations in 2007, 2010, 2019 and again in this year’s competition 2022. Ireland will compete in an U20s Summer Series in Italy in the wake of their Six Nations Grand Slam success as there is not World Rugby Junior World Cup this year.
Eight sides - the Six Nations teams, South Africa, and Georgia — are competing. They are divided into two groups of four, and each side will play three pool matches before a cross-pool encounter determines the winner. The tournament has Ireland locking horns with England, France and South Africa.
You can watch Ireland v France on youtube here:
Four players to watch
This competition will give players another opportunity to expose themselves to national team selectors and academy managers so they can evaluate the high-performance player development system and what is required to advance these players to the next level, even though some members of the victorious Grand Slam team are absent due to injury.
"To be captain of the team and that composed and mature for a young man. He definitely has a big future."
— Virgin Media Sport (@VMSportIE) March 20, 2022
Ulster's Reuben Crothers will lead the team once more. With his strong defensive contributions and enthusiasm to get on the ball for his team, the diligent Ulster backrower enjoyed a wonderful Six Nations tournament. Like any good Irish backrow, keep an eye out for his ability to steal the ball from the opposition during breakdowns.
Due to an injury, Leinster's Diarmuid Mangan only played a supporting role in two Six Nations matches, but he was one of UCD's top performers in the All-Ireland League this year. In the style of his fellow former student Cian Prendergast from Newbridge College, Mangan can play second row or backrow. He is one of Ireland's top ball-carrying forwards at this age level and a player with great promise.
TRY IRELAND – James McCormick’s last act of the game is to crash over the line from a dominant Irish maul #rtesport
— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) February 4, 2022
James McCormick (Ulster) participated in all five games of the 2022 Six Nations tournament and scored three tries. The energetic Ulster hooker is a key factor in the team's overall work rate. Watch out for his dynamic ball carrying and keen eye for the try line. He has already played for Ulster A this season.
Sam Prendergast (Leinster) played in both of Ireland's under-19 games against France in April. There is much to be enthused about with this young flyhalf. He is the younger brother of Connacht's Cian Prendergast, who is off to New Zealand with the senior team this summer.
Sam possesses excellent game control and a kicking game that belies his youth. He should be able to advance to the next stage with the help of this competition and gain some crucial experience on the field to be ready for the 2023 Six Nations season. Given the age profiles of some of Ireland's top professional fly halves, it might come at the right time for this talented youngster.
TRY IRELAND - Lock Mark Morrissey gets in on the scoring act after James McCormick was stopped short of the line #rtesport
— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) February 4, 2022
Ireland open the Under-20s Summer Series against France U20s Verona, this Friday, 24th June, (7pm Irish time), followed by a game v South Africa U20s on Wednesday, 29th June, (7pm Irish time).
Their third game against England U20s, Tuesday, 5th July, (7pm Irish time). The tournament concludes with playoffs on Tuesday, 12th July.
It can be watched on the Six Nations Under-20s YouTube channel.
You can watch the game here.