HE has become adept at driving forward in scrums and earlier this week Ireland U20 rugby international James French showed he can be trusted behind the wheel too.
The Bandon native spoke to The Southern Star just after he passed his driving test in Skibbereen as he reflected on a Six Nations Championship campaign which saw him build on the rapid progress made since being converted to a prop.
A centre for much of his teenage years, French was singled out as having long-term potential in the front row by Munster – he is currently a member of the province’s sub-academy, with designs of making the full academy for 2018-19 – and he backed up that view as he made the team of the tournament for last year’s Munster Schools Senior Cup, having helped Bandon GS to a semi-final spot for the first time.
That he has made such progress in such a short space of time underlines his quality.
‘Last year was my first full year playing prop,’ he says.
‘The notion came from Munster when I was in fourth year, but that year, and even when I was in fifth year, I only played prop with Munster in the interpros and that was only two games a year.
‘I had no experience as a prop, really. I played as a back for the school until sixth year, then I made the full move to prop.
‘I was always told that if I went prop, there’d be a big future there for me, that’s why I went along with it.’
It’s an ineluctable fact that centre is a more glamorous role, carrying with it the scope for more glory. Leaving that notion go in favour of packing down was the hardest thing for French, but he has come to embrace the new duties.
‘It took a while to get used to it but I grew fond of it,’ he says.
‘I didn’t like it at the start, I just wanted to carry the ball and make the tackles! I just had to get my head around it at first really.
‘I love it now. When we played Scotland, in the first game I started, it was unreal just winning those scrum penalties. It’s more of a direct battle.’
A recreation and leisure management student in UCC, French has had to put the educational commitments on the back burner since the new year, due to the demands placed on him in terms of joining up with the U20 squad.
‘We were up in Dublin every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday,’ he says.
‘I actually deferred from college. I did semester one but in January then, training got a bit too much, I didn’t really have time to get in to college.
‘I’ll go back in January next year, I’ll go in semester two of year one. At the moment, I’m focused on getting as ready as I can for the World Cup and then trying to get into the full Munster academy. They’re my main goals.’
Ireland finished third in the table in the championship behind France and England and French acknowledges that the learning curve was a steep one.
‘It was unreal, we definitely learned a lot from it,’ he says.
‘I think I’ve improved from the first game to the last game. You have learn week in and week out, every meeting and video session and then you have to bring that out onto the pitch then.’
The World Cup takes place in France from May 30th-June 17th, but before that he will don the Skull and Crossbones again.
‘UCC have four or five games left and it’s their most important part of the season at the moment,’ she says.
‘They’re going for promotion so I’ll be playing for them for the next few weeks and then back up in Dublin preparing for the World Cup.
‘We’ll have about two weeks off before that and then it’s full steam ahead for France.’
Beyond that, the target is full academy status with Munster.
‘In college in semester one, we were doing a lot of practical work so I wasn’t able to travel to Limerick to train with Munster,’ he says.
‘I’m hoping it won’t be a barrier, they told me it won’t be a problem if I’m training in Cork but it would look better if I was in Limerick.
‘I’ll start doing that again.’