Fineen and Josh Wycherley have made a big impact with Munster, as TOM SAVAGE explains
I HAVE a fascination with seeing old photos or videos showing people on the way to where they are going. Not quite what they were, and not what they would become, but something in the middle. It’s called liminality.
I was watching YouTube a few months ago – I’m trying desperately to hold onto my youth, you see – and the almighty algorithm suggested an old video from the Irish Rugby TV page from September 19th 2013. It was Peter O’Mahony and Simon Zebo heading down to Bantry Bay RFC to have a look at some of the work done by people like Eugene McCarthy, Philip Walters, Florence Wycherley and others.
For those keeping count of the interminable passage of time, that was eight entire years ago. For some reason, I clicked play.
And there they were. Fineen and Josh Wycherley playing around in the background as Peter O’Mahony – fresh from breaking into the Ireland squad himself – spoke about how ‘there were some special players knocking around here’ after praising the work done down in Bantry by the club and the wider community.
Talk about liminality. Did the Wycherley brothers know that eight years later, they’d be in the same Munster squad as Peter O’Mahony? I have a feeling they did, strangely enough. Maybe I’m wrong but I can’t shake the idea that these two young players had the drive to make it as professionals, even then, or else they wouldn’t be where they are today. Remember, back in 2013 the idea of a rugby West Cork Mafia was a pipe dream. Dunmanway’s Darren Sweetnam wouldn’t make his Munster debut for another two years – and the influence he has had on the recent West Cork rugby output can never be underestimated – but I think the Wycherley brothers were always training like they were going to be the ones to do it first.
Eight years later, both young men are where they planned to be and pushing for more.
Fineen is racking up minutes and influence for Munster in the second-row. He is taking the tough road to prominence. In some ways, it’s easier for guys to get noticed if they’re scoring a rake of tries or making big, highlight-reel carries but that hasn’t been Fineen’s game at the moment.
No, he’s going for the harder route to success and prominence – he’s learning how to call the lineout, he’s trimming every ounce of fat off his offensive and defensive lineout jumping, he’s making tackles, he’s hitting rucks like a jackhammer and he’s getting reps as a tighthead lock which, for my money, is the toughest role of all to play in the pack outside of the tighthead prop himself.
One of the biggest curses on the commentary around the game over the last few years has been the concept of ‘unseen work’ as if the work that doesn’t show up on YouTube highlight reels is somehow less important. The truth is, if you know what you’re looking at, nothing that Fineen does is ‘unseen’. It’s all right there in front of you. Fineen, at just 23 years of age, is putting together the kind of CV that coaches just love because he’s working on becoming a player that specialises in the dirty work that doesn’t make the stats on the TV at the end of the game but that gets highlighted over and over again on the in-house review. That’s before you factor in his improvements with the ball in hand and in the carry himself.
Every pack needs a guy like Fineen Wycherley but a guy like Fineen Wycherley doesn’t just burst on the scene – they are the product of four or five seasons of hard work, conditioning and in-game experiences. He’s well along the way to being a vital cog for Munster and, sooner rather than later, Ireland too.
Josh Wycherley, the younger of the two brothers, is another guy who took the route less travelled to where he is now and, I would argue, is all the better for it. It wasn’t so long ago that Josh was a star component of a Grand Slam Ireland U20 side which, when you consider the competition included players who have already started at full senior level for their country, is quite the achievement. That isn’t a thing that should be overlooked. Josh regularly came up against colossal French and English tightheads with full senior game time under their belt but they found the Bantry man wasn’t for moving.
Since then, Josh has continued in the Munster Academy. In a lot of ways, this season has been a breakout for him. He’s got nine senior appearances under his belt and none of them more important than the 75 minutes he spent in the Munster #1 jersey in the Stade Marcel Michelin against Clermont Auvergne and, individually, the monstrous Rabah Slimani.
The modern prop is expected to be a lot of things but Slimani is something of a throwback in that he is a dominant, powerful scrummager. You don’t select Slimani for his handling or carrying, you select him because he eats looseheads for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At the start of the game, it looked like Josh Wycherley could be added to that list after Slimani – illegally – lifted him into the air. Essentially, he just stood up and took Wycherley with him. Plenty of young looseheads would crumble there and then but not Josh Wycherley. He recovered. He dusted himself off and set about powdering Slimani for the rest of the game.
By the end, it was Wycherley driving the old monster back. Not every young loosehead has that name on their resume but Josh Wycherley does. He’s shown the same power and technical prowess every time I’ve seen him and he’s even got to play for Munster with his older brother.
Both of these young men have big futures ahead in the red of Munster and green of Ireland all the way from the blue of Bantry Bay.
- Tom Savage is editor of the Three Red Kings website.