Stepping Up: Spotlight on U21 Players in Round 16 of the Guinness Pro 14

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Coach Logic

The last round of the Pro14 offered plenty of entertainment and young players to look back on before Leinster and Munster meet in next week’s final.

There were a number of exceptional displays across the contests including a Man of the Match award and a superb solo try and, depending on how teams view the Rainbow Cup, this may have been a final chance for youngsters to prove themselves before next season. 

Munster vs Benetton

Thomas Ahern – Lock

Cian Hurley – Lock

Munster started two young locks in Ahern and Hurley, who was making his debut for the side. While Hurley, from Christian Brothers College, looked solid for the most part on both sides of the ball, Ahern stood out with his carrying especially. The 6’9” former fullback looked every bit the modern second row with his pace and support play as well as being his team’s go to line out option. A former pupil at St Augustine’s, Ahern earned Man of the Match plaudits at the final whistle and Munster fans will surely be delighted with his contribution.

Filippo Alongi – Tighthead prop

Nicola Piantella – Lock

Manuel Zuliani – Back row

Promoted from the bench last week, Alongi’s play far surpassed what would normally be expected of a 20 year old tighthead. The Mogliano man anchored his scrum well (with his replacement conceding a penalty soon after he came on) and brought physicality in the tight areas around the ruck. Zuliani, from Rugby Paese, started at openside with his usual teenage back row teammate, Favretto making his debut for the national side and worked hard defensively but struggled to make any major impacts against the abrasive Munster pack. Nicola Piantella made his first appearance for Benetton off the bench and the Rangers Rugby Vicenza player showed some nice handling with an offload leading to a try.

Leinster vs Ospreys

Marcus Hanan – Loosehead prop

Tom Clarkson – Tighthead prop

Sean O’Brien – Back row

Tim Corkery – Fly half

Jamie Osborne – Centre

Andrew Smith – Wing

Max O’Reilly – Fullback

Leinster matched last week’s total of 7 U21s involved in their match against Ospreys with Osborne (Naas CBS) and O’Reilly (St Gerard’s) starting at outside centre and fullback respectively. Osborne was arguably one of his team’s top performers, offering a quality kicking option and running threat and scoring an opportunistic try on the back of a good kick chase. O’Reilly was less conspicuous but was still good under the high ball and popped up consistently to contribute as an attacking threat.

The Dublin side’s bench players had less of an impact with wing Smith (St Michael’s) being carded shortly after entering with less than 15 minutes left and O’Brien (Blackrock) coming on as an HIA replacement for 10 minutes in the first half. Tom Clarkson (Blackrock) had an interesting scrum battle with Phillips but the Irish prop was substituted with an injury in the final 10 minutes with Phillips edging him in the contest. Marcus Hanan (Clane RFC) played the most minutes of the young subs but failed to stand out, although he did manage his side of the scrum better and Corkery (St Keiran’s) joined the match with just seconds left on the clock

Garyn Phillips – Loosehead prop

Josh Thomas – Fly half

Joe Hawkins – Centre

All of Ospreys youngsters started on the bench but each played their part in their side’s impressive comeback victory. Hawkins (Cwmtawe Comprehensive) was brough on early in the match and frequently carried hard into the teeth of the Leinster defence at inside centre in order to open up space for his teammates while also showing promising distribution play when the game did open up. The young centre did persevere to open space for his teammates Garyn Phillips (Coleg y Cymoedd) looks a prospect with the 19 year old getting the better of Clarkson in the scrum and managing a huge turnover in the dying minutes.

With 15 minutes to play, Thomas (Ysgol Gyfun Gŵyr) was brought on at fly half and played a part in Ospreys 3 late scores, particularly the final one, with the playmaker charging down a kick and re-collecting to score the winning try while also kicking all 3 conversions.

Ulster vs Zebre

Cormac Izuchukwu – Lock

David McCann – Back row

Ben Moxham – Centre

Ethan McIlroy – Fullback

With Zebre going down to 13 men for much of the match, this wasn’t the greatest test for Ulster’s young players but Izuchukwu, in his first start, will still have impressed his coaches with a good all round performance. The Roscrea man carried well and showed some nice footwork before being subbed mid-way through the 2nd half. Ethan McIlroy, once of Methodist College, can also be pleased as he attempts to tie down the fullback spot. There was plenty of space for the Ulster backs and McIlroy was a consistent threat with his pace, footwork and inter-play with his colleagues.

Former Ireland U20s captain, McCann played the full 80 minutes at number 8 and had a strong case to be named Man of the Match. He led his team in tackles as well as carries and managed to demonstrate some quality handling amongst an all-action outing. Coming off the bench, Larne High School’s Ben Moxham played out the match at outside centre and exploited some of the space available, linking up with his back three and also showed some nice physicality in the tackle and carry.

Dragons vs Glasgow

Ben Carter – Lock

Aneurin Owen – Centre

Former Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw student Owen played all 80 minutes at outside centre and looked more comfortable than he did the previous week, demonstrating better physicality in defence and some nice playmaking at first receiver. The young centre also assisted a try for his fullback, putting him through a gap to make a clean break and score. Caldicot product Carter once again came off the bench and asserted himself with solid defence in the tackle and breakdown as well contributing on attack with the forwards driving over from close range.

Jamie Dobie – Scrum half

Rufus McLean – Wing

Ollie Smith – Fullback

In a disappointing defeat for Glasgow, Rufus McLean of Merchiston Castle School was the standout player. The winger was a running threat all game and scored a marvellous solo try before the half that will live long in the memory. McLean danced through a swathe of Dragons forwards before stepping to the outside and outpacing the covering wing and fullback. The age grade star can be pleased with his efforts resulting in 90 metres made, 3 clean breaks and 6 defenders beaten.

Rufus McLean scores a wonder try for Glasgow Warriors

Jamie Dobie (also of Merchiston) came on at half time and increased the tempo for his side. His passing was generally quick and accurate and while he was far from flawless, at times he appeared to show better awareness and effort close to the line than some of the experienced forwards around him. Ollie Smith unfortunately didn’t see much ball coming off the bench with most of the play going through the forwards. On the occasions he was involved, the Strathallan FP didn’t cost his team at all and appeared sharp.

Cardiff vs Edinburgh

Charlie Savala – Fly half

Savala made his debut versus Cardiff in what was his first competitive rugby union match since leaving Scots College in New South Wales 2 years ago. The former Sydney Rooster looked fairly composed and played with his head up with the help of some of his more experienced teammates taking on game management duties. The stand off made 2 out of 3 from the tee and showed some nice touches with the boot and an array of passes. The experience will serve him well as he settles into the squad and back into union.

Scarlets vs Connacht

Jac Morgan – Back row

Ysgol Dyffryn Aman product, Morgan, was outstanding versus Connacht as he played the full 80 minutes of their dramatic comeback performance. Morgan carried well but it was his defensive play that caught the eye, leading his team with 19 tackles and securing a key turnover in the final minutes. Morgan was also interestingly used multiple times as a defender in the 10 channel against 5m scrums, with Dan Jones packing down at blindside. The tactic paid off as he chopped down the huge Papali’i’s charges from the base. Lastly, the Scarlets flanker topped off his day with an excellent clearance kick to show off his range of skills.

NextGenXV are working alongside the Alred Trophy, a competition designed to identify Britain & Ireland’s best young kicker. You can read all about it here: Alred Trophy All You Need To Know – and make sure that you head over to to sign up for your chance to be crowned best young kicker!

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