Sam Prendergast made his first start for the Ireland U20s on Wednesday June 29th against South Africa in their second game of the Six Nations Summer Series (he had already come off the bench against France the week previously). It saw him follow in the footsteps of his older brother Cian, who had started for Ireland XV against the Maori All Blacks earlier that morning.
Sam was sporting the shaved head style, in stark contrast to his brother’s flowing locks. It is a cocky look no doubt, particularly for an outhalf, and brings with it a certain expectation. Can they live up to it? Can they pull it off?
A Rocky Start Against The Baby Boks
Initially, the answer was a definitive no. The first 40 against the Baby Boks was a shit-show for the Irish team, featuring an abundance of errors from the entire side, with Prendergast's missed touch from a penalty standing out amongst the plethora of mistakes.
But of any position on the pitch, the skill of ‘not being fazed’ is needed most by the no. 10. He has to retain an aura of confidence regardless of what has happened and cannot be changed. And this is what we saw from Prendergast in the second-half.
The first glimpse of his fluency with attacking kicks was seen in the 49th minute when he put through a delicately weighted grubber for winger Dylan O’Grady to latch onto and grab Ireland’s first try. It was perfect technique, dropped onto the toe with what looked like the slightest of touches, gathering wicked bounce and pace to beat the South African defence.
— Six Nations Under-20s (@SixNationsU20) July 1, 2022
Ireland came back into the game to finish with a respectable scoreline of 33-24, helped hugely by Prendergast’s assist and a flawless performance off the tee. From that match onwards, his productivity in the green jersey would increase exponentially.
His hunger and confidence was echoed as well, in his own words and in the words of his coach Richie Murphy.
It festered in him while he watched from home as the Ireland U20s took home the Six Nations Grand Slam title, with fellow Leinsterman Charlie Tector starring at outhalf.
“For lads like myself that weren’t in that Six Nations squad, we just wanted to make sure we were doing the jersey proud and not just coming in and losing,” said Prendergast after Ireland’s defeat of Scotland in their final Summer Series game.
“I’m so hungry, watching lads in February and March win that - you were happy for them but you were jealous you weren’t involved. Hopefully I’ll get in the squad for next year and hopefully it can be a repeat.”
Coming Up Clutch Against England
Ireland’s third game of the Summer Series, against England, was a 73 point thriller and the game of the tournament. After going down 14-0 with just six minutes on the clock, a heavy loss was written in the stars, given the outcome Ireland’s first two games.
But they fought back immediately, and were level nine minutes later. Shortly after, Prendergast helped them secure the lead by completing a risky and highly difficult pass, once again to O’Grady, before the winger was high-tackled over the line and Ireland were awarded a penalty try.
This is a beautifully weighted pass from Sam Prendergast to Shay McCarthy leading to a try for the Irish 20s pic.twitter.com/0tSM3aC7MI
— EK Rugby Analysis (@ek_rugby) July 5, 2022
With two minutes remaining in the match, Ireland found themselves two points down with a penalty just inside the English half.
Murphy gave an insight after the game into the mindset of Prendergast as he decided to step up and take the long range kick.
“We had a long-range penalty kicker on the pitch as well in George Coomber but Sam decided that he wanted it.
“He was obviously in the groove because he had been in the game and I’m sure the one he missed earlier on probably upset him.
“It was great to give him that opportunity and to be fair to him it never looked like it was going anywhere else, and what people won’t realise was that it was going into a bit of a breeze as well.”
After splitting the uprights and seeing out the victory, it left fans pining to see what Prendergast and his team could serve up in their final game against Scotland.
A great week then turned into a transformative one for Prendergast, as the day after taking down the English he was awarded a contract with the Leinster Academy, alongside other top U20 talents such as James Culhane, Charlie Tector, and Aitzol King.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) July 5, 2022
Moments Of Genius Against The Scots
The Scottish match was a magnum opus of sorts for Prendergast and his attacking kicks. He bagged three direct assists with his boot; a chip over the top to Daniel Hawkshaw after a minute and a half, a pin-point kick-off to Fionn Gibbons which was finished off superbly by the centre, and a second-half crossfield to Shay McCarthy.
None of these assists were the highlight of his game however. That came in the 15th minute when he dummied, stepped, and handed-off his way to an 80 metre run from his own 22 to the five metre line.
His performance against the Scots cemented his place as Ireland’s player of the Series, and begged the question, had he come along a couple of years earlier, could we be looking at Sexton’s back-up for the 2023 World Cup?
Sam Prendergast has had some tournament for the Irish U20s this Summer.
Love the combination of deception, strength and speed he shows here to beat so many defenders.#IrishRugby #U20SummerSeries pic.twitter.com/wikW226Z7A
— EK Rugby Analysis (@ek_rugby) July 12, 2022