CONNACHT men played prominent roles on an historic day for Irish rugby last Saturday.
Ireland coach Nigel Carolan masterminded a victory over New Zealand in the U20 World Championship in Manchester on Saturday. Two Connacht players – scrum-half Stephen Kerins and prop Cillian Gallagher, both of Sligo – starred in the historic win over the Baby Blacks.
It was the first ever success for an Irish men’s side over New Zealand, who are the reigning World champions at this level. The 33-24 result in teeming rain in North England follows on from Ireland’s storming comeback against current Six Nations U20 champions, Wales last Tuesday week.
Carolan, from Renmore, was appointed head coach of the national U20s side last year. Since then he has continued in his role as head of Connacht Academy, a position he has held since 2004. Speaking to reporters after the game, Carolan hailed his charges’ composure as they closed out the nine-points win.
“Our defensive line was excellent,” said Carolan. “Even though we missed many tackles, the work-rate and character shown by the lads, the desire to stop a New Zealand jersey, was massive.” He was also thrilled by Ireland’s comeback to beat Wales by 26-25, having trailed by 17-0 after just 20 minutes.
“It was very pleasing to open the tournament with the win over Wales on. While we gave them a big lead early on, I felt that we showed fantastic ambition and fight to get back into the game and we were patient to close out the win in the end,” he said. A win over Georgia in Wednesday evening’s final pool game, would mean Ireland would qualify for the semi-final of U20s for the second time ever.
Meanwhile, Connacht players were to the fore against more Southern Hemisphere opposition on Saturday as Joe Schmidt’s Ireland defeated South Africa for the first time ever on African soil.
Second-row Ultan Dillane made a big impact when he was introduced from the bench in Cape Town with less than 15 minutes to go as Ireland, who played an hour of the match with 14-men, pulled-off a massive 20-13 win. It was a fourth Ireland cap for Dillane, who made his first appearance for Connacht seniors just over a year ago.
The 6’6” lock made a couple of trademark carries and tackles during his short but impressive appearance. Findlay Bealham and Kieran Marmion, both named on the bench, were not used but Connacht centre, Robbie Henshaw, who is Leinster-bound this summer, put in another solid shift for his country, aside from a first-half sin-binning.
Full coverage in this week’s Connacht Tribune.