A very promising group of Connacht U17 players impressed throughout last week’s challenge match against their Ulster counterparts at Enniskillen RFC.
Coached by Connacht Coach Development Manager Eamonn Molloy and Coach Development Officer JP Walsh, the club and school players showcased a wide range of skills in difficult conditions.
They defeated the hosts by three tries to nil but it was the encouraging performance that was most pleasing for the 32-man panel.
Connacht Domestic Rugby Manager Eric Elwood and Provincial Talent Coach Colm Tucker were also in attendance and offered encouragement and a few words of wisdom from the sidelines.
Molloy was delighted with the opportunity to give the talented youngsters the opportunity to play another game in the Connacht jersey at Enniskillen.
“It was great to get a quality game, it’s difficult to get fixtures amidst the schools and club games so it was vital to get the full panel together,” says Molloy. “Our thanks to Ulster for accommodating and hosting the fixture as well, we have had ample opportunity to see the players during the season after two games in August – against Ulster and Munster – and we played Munster again at Christmas so we have had a good few outings throughout the year.”
On a very cold, windy evening at Enniskillen, the conditions weren’t ideal for running rugby but the Connacht youngsters produced a fine display.
“They adapted quite well,” says Molloy. “It was a bit wet and windy at the start and what was most pleasing was the skillset of the players. While they were adapting to the conditions, it didn’t hold them back. We played a fairly expansive game and they set a high standard for themselves with their handling skillset.
“Playing the other provinces is a step up, that’s the idea of it. Naturally, it gets a bit more intense when they get to U18s level and go into the Interprovincial championship but the more experience they have of putting on the jersey and meeting the other provinces before they get to that level, the better.
“On top of playing with their club and school, these players do weekly skills sessions in their own region, ideally we then get them all together during the school breaks as a squad.
“The next step for the U17s is a trip to the UK where we have two tough fixtures against a North Wales region and Sale Sharks and, again, it will be an opportunity for them to gel and to challenge for places in the squad. Then we will be picking a squad going into the summer which will ultimately be the U18 squad for next year’s Interprovincial series.”