ON AN EVENING when Ireland performed superbly as a team to defy the odds and topple England, there was no shortage of outstanding individual contributions, not least the work of Scott Penny in the back row.
The 19-year-old may only be playing in his first U20 Six Nations, but already the Leinster flanker has four Guinness Pro14 appearances under his belt and, certainly, he is one of the brightest young prospects in Irish rugby.
Penny in action against England. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
A penchant for scoring tries — he already has two to his name for the eastern province — continued as he grounded at the base of the post during a helter-skelter first half at Musgrave Park, but Penny’s appetite for work, ball-carrying ability and overall dynamism makes him a potent weapon at seven.
Part of an influential back row unit alongside John Hodnett and Martin Moloney, Penny also led from the front defensively during another performance which only adds to the excitement surrounding his potential at such a young age.
The former St Michael’s College student, who is only a year out of school, starts again for Noel McNamara’s side against Scotland tonight [KO 7.30pm], and his availability is a major fillip for Ireland as they continue their Six Nations campaign.
“Scott is a quality player,” Kieran Campbell, the head of the Ulster academy who is Ireland’s defence coach for the championship, said.
“I think he has had good exposure at senior level. In terms of what he does, he wouldn’t be the loudest guy. It’s more how he leads in what he does.
“There were times in that game where some of his line speeds and his tackles in behind the gain line…you talk about England being big, it’s pretty difficult when they’re getting smashed in behind the gain line. That’s what Scott brought to it.
“He was really the guy who engineered the line speed in the game, which really allowed us to get into their big guys and make sure they didn’t generate momentum.
“It’s more how Scott leads and I suppose that is reflective of him playing at a higher level. What I’ve noticed about Scott well is, he’s a really good person. He’s very, very applied to his detail and that reflects in how he plays.”
After beginning their Six Nations with a bang and setting down a marker, it is no surprise McNamara has made just one change to his side for the round two visit to Scotland, with luckless scrum-half Craig Casey forced out through injury.
The Munster nine was withdrawn during the latter stages of the 35-27 win with a head knock, but it later emerged he sustained a knee injury and visited Santry during the week for a scan. Leinster’s Cormac Foley deputises in his place.
Ireland U20 defence coach Kieran Campbell. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
One of the striking aspects of last Friday’s victory was Ireland’s cohesion and collective fight, playing some eye-catching rugby but also rolling up their sleeves to dig themselves out of difficult situations, notably an 11-point deficit at one juncture.
With strong competition for places across the board, McNamara, Campbell and Ambrose Conboy have cultivated an excellent environment for the group, the evidence of which was very much on show in Cork.
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The challenge now is to build on that this week against a Scottish side that were defeated by Italy in their opening fixture, but will be better for the experience and another week of training.
“The group is hugely ambitious,” Campbell continued. “We set our stall out from the get-go, we want to perform and perform well. We need to back it up and make sure that when we get to Scotland we deliver a performance that is better than England again.