Reuben Crothers hopes his experience will come in handy after revealing how proud and honoured he is to be named captain of Ireland for the Six Nations Under-20s.
The 20-year-old flanker is one of just four survivors from last year’s squad, starting all five matches on the bench as Ireland finished the Championship in third.
But he will aim to lead from the front in the 2022 edition as the 2019 champions begin their latest Six Nations Under-20s campaign against Wales at Musgrave Park on Friday.
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And while Crothers managed to play it cool when Ireland head coach Richie Murphy told him he would skipper the team, he admitted he was secretly delighted to be selected.
“It is a real privilege to be captain of your country,” he said. “It’s an honour, but I have so many leaders around me in the team that it makes my job a lot easier.
“If I am looking for a bit of advice in any way I can just turn to them. I found out at the start of the week just before we came into this camp.
“Richie gave me a phone call a few days before camp started. I was pretty calm on the phone to Richie, but inside I was over the moon.
“I was captain of my high school for two years, just in the Schools Cup.
“Age-grade through Ulster I captained the age-grade teams. It is the first captaincy role that I have had for a few years because of Covid.”
Crothers came on as a replacement in four of the five games in last year’s Championship in Cardiff, with the 40-12 victory over hosts Wales the only match he missed.
Yet despite only making a handful of cameo appearances in the 2021 edition, the Ulster back rower believes the experience he gained will be invaluable this time around.
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“Last year there were a lot of quality players within the squad. I did learn a lot in Cardiff during the Six Nations. The style of play that Under-20 rugby is, it is so fast and abrasive,” he Crothers.
“I will take all my learnings from last year into this year. I feel ready myself and I am confident that the team is ready for the challenge against Wales.”
Ireland defeated Scotland, Wales and Italy in the 2021 Six Nations Under-20s but defeats to France and eventual champions England ended their hopes of retaining their 2019 crown.
The pandemic has meant there has been a lack of opportunities for the brightest talents of the Emerald Isle to test themselves against their upcoming Championship opponents.
But despite Ireland head coach Murphy being somewhat in the dark about what to expect in the coming weeks, he has no intention of moving away from his preferred game plan for the 2022 edition.
“We haven’t seen anything of the opposition players. Obviously we see the squads as they’re being announced and you recognise some of the names. One of the things we have is obviously we don’t have a massive amount of players with senior experience,” said Murphy.
“The big thing is trying to open their eyes really and bring them with us. In some situations it’s taking us a little bit longer to get to where we wanted to get to.
“But we haven’t just said, ‘right, we’re not doing that because these guys haven’t had as much experience’. We’ve set the bar quite high for them and we’ve stretched them.
“What we’ve done is, we’ve kept reviewing and looking back in order to make sure we’re going in the right direction. We haven’t curtailed the game-plan. We’re definitely trying to play the space.
“The skill-set of the players is good. Their ability to stay in the moment, keep focused and keep working towards that plan is probably where they haven’t been in those high-pressure situations enough over that period.”