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04th Apr 2023

Johnny Sexton settles who won training match between senior side and U20s

Patrick McCarry

Johnny Sexton

Backed up by the young guns, who would no doubt love another crack.

For the first time in this country’s sporting history, the Ireland U20s and senior Test sides brought home Six Nations Grand Slams. Johnny Sexton and Gus McCarthy had the dual honour of lifting the Six Nations trophies aloft.

The closest any side got to Andy Farrell’s men in the 2023 Guinness Six Nations was England, who still lost by 13 points in what was the Grand Slam decider. Richie Murphy’s U20s also rolled the opposition and closed their campaign out with a thrilling win over their English counterparts.

One of the most anticipated encounters of the past few months occurred at Aviva Stadium when both sides had a crack off each other as part of the build-up for their respective games against Scotland.

Johnny Sexton spoke about the game, late in the championship, while a couple of Munster’s U20s stand-outs, Brian Gleeson and Ruadhan Quinn, gave us their take on events.

Johnny SextonJohnny Sexton poses for a selfie with Elle Travers, aged five, from Naas, Kildare, and her father Alan during an Ireland Rugby open training session at the Aviva Stadium. (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile)

Johnny Sexton on clash with Ireland U20s

Johnny Sexton’s brother, Mark, is assistant coach to Richie Murphy with Ireland U20s. After being asked a question about his brother making decent coaching strides, the Ireland captain offered an insight into that training face-off in early March.

“We actually beat them in the Aviva, a couple of weeks ago,” Sexton told reporters after the Murrayfield win over Scotland. “So, it wouldn’t a true Grand Slam for them!”

“It’s debatable, though,” Ireland coach Andy Farrell chimed in, “whether they’re playing better than us at the minute.”

“They were pretty impressive in their game [against Scotland] on Friday night. They’ve got some pretty impressive players and Mark is doing a great job. Very proud of him, yeah.”

When we caught up with Munster and Ireland U20 back-row Brian Gleeson was not about to argue with a living legend like Sexton.

“I imagine they would beat us, now, best side in the world, and all that,” the Tipperary native said.

Gleeson, who started the Grand Slam decider at No.8 and scored two tries against England, continued, “When we trained against them, they were well able to find our weaknesses and exploit them. But that makes us a better team, as well. We were able to look at where they picked us apart and tried working on that so other teams couldn’t do likewise.”

Asked if both sides were to face off in a full-blown match, Gleeson was humble in his prediction – “We’ll give them 30 points [winning margin], anyway!”

Gleeson was impressed with the senior stars’ physicality, precision for detail and the team bond they appeared to have. The way the training face-offs worked out were more scrum and set-play focused with the U20s ‘trying to put it up to them, which I feel we did’, Gleeson said.

Johnny SextonBrian Gleeson and Ruadhan Quinn were part of Ireland U20s Grand Slam side. (Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile)

‘That was a bit of a star-struck moment’

Following the hit-outs against the senior team, Gleeson and teammate Ruadhan Quinn both spoke glowingly of how many of Andy Farrell’s side hung around to share to tips and advice to the U20s. Quinn said:

“After we trained with them down in the HPC in Dublin, a few of them – including Josh van der Flier – come up to me afterwards. So, that was a bit of a bit star-struck moment.

“Josh is unbelievable, in his technicality, his knowledge of the game, even small things which are scrummaging and things that you might think of, or need, as a seven. I moved to seven this year and you might not thing these things are a huge part of the game.

“But if you want to be at that top level, all these little tweaks and things, it can just improve your game. Obviously he has that nailed down, too. So I just tried to be like a sponge in those situations and take as much as I could.”

“We’ve been watching them on telly since we were young,” Gleeson noted. “The way we’ve all been thinking, no doubt, is, ‘I want to be in their position’.”

The time is fast approaching where their opportunities will come. It is just a matter of grasping them when they do.


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