KIERAN McCARTHY chats to Ireland U20 Six Nations hero Josh Wycherley from Bantry
JOSH Wycherley isn’t resting on his laurels. He has just won an U20 Six Nations title and a Grand Slam but he already wants to build on that success.
There’s an U20 World Cup this summer in Argentina that already has his attention.
‘I firmly believe that we can go on and give it a good go,’ Josh says.
‘I wouldn’t say we’d be anyway cocky because we aren’t and we won’t be – but this feel like it’s the start of something.
‘We will be without our captain, David Hawkshaw, who is injured and he will be a big loss to our squad. The main group of lads are still there. We’ll have a good block of training before the tournament to train again, push it on and have a good crack at the World Cup. We won’t be cocky but we know that if we play well then we can deliver.’
That’s coming down the track in June. They have been handed a tough group. The first game is against England. Then it’s Australia. The final group match is against Italy.
In similar fashion to Ireland’s successful Six Nations campaign, a lot will hinge on the opening game against England. They’ll be gunning for Ireland after they lost 35-27 at Musgrave Park in the opening game of the U20 Six Nations. That was the catalyst for Ireland to go on and dominate the competition.
‘That was significant alright. That drove us on,’ Josh says.
‘We always had belief in the squad and once we overcame England, we all realised that we have a good chance of winning. We knew that we were on to something big.’
A 24-5 win away to Scotland followed. Then Noel McNamara’s team beat Italy 34-14 before Ireland clinched the title with a terrific 31-29 home win against France – a game where Josh scored two tries in front of his home Cork crowd and also picked up the man-of-the-match award.
‘My try-scoring record wouldn’t be great, to be honest. I wouldn’t be scoring every game,’ the 19-year-old Bantry man smiles.
‘It was nice to get the job done at a full Musgrave Park. The atmosphere was brilliant. Running out in front of family, friends and fans, that’s something I’ll never forget.’
The Grand Slam was secured with a hard-fought 26-17 win away to Wales and then the celebrations began. It was after that Josh started to realise the magnitude of their achievement. Five wins from five. Grand Slam champions. His own stock has risen considerably too.
In the run-up to the tournament he was often referred to as the younger brother of Munster rugby’s Fineen Wycherley but Josh is building his own reputation off the back of his performances.
He’s strong at set pieces. He thrives in the physical parts of the game – tackling, ball carrying and scrummaging in the ruck. He has an immense work-rate.
Josh was a huge part of a dominant Irish pack that finished the tournament with a 100 per cent record in the scrum.
‘That record is down to the coaching. A lot of behind-the-scenes work goes in. We knew we weren’t going to be the biggest pack so we had to beat those bigger packs in different ways – by dropping our height and staying in the fight when we’re in there. Winning the height was what it came down to, a lot of the time those bigger lads can’t get down there so that was an advantage to us,’ Josh explains.
He ticks a lot of boxes and impressed a lot of people these past few weeks. Even Munster head coach Johann Van Graan referenced Josh’s ‘excellent campaign’ with talk he might fast-track some of the province’s academy stars into first team action this season.
That’s a lot for Josh to take in.
‘That’s a real boost. Any time a Munster coach, and especially the Munster senior coach, has you on their mind is very humbling. It’s a big thing too because we all want to push on and hopefully get there some day. It’s about keeping the head down, working hard and hopefully we’ll get the chance some day,’ Josh says.
He doesn’t have to look too far for inspiration. Fineen is two years and four months older than Josh and is being tipped for big things. He has earned his first professional contract with Munster and is featuring more and more in the first team squad.
Josh’s rise is very similar to Fineen’s.
‘I started off U8s with Bantry and worked my way up to the U18s. I got into the Cadets with Munster and worked my way up through the age-grade squads,’ Josh says.
‘In fifth year in school, and similar to Fineen, I went to (Cistercian College) Roscrea for two years which was massive for me – the training really helped my game. I got a chance to play U19s with Munster and Ireland. I was offered a sub-academy and then last summer I was offered the academy. I’m in my first year there and really enjoying it.
‘The next step is to get a World Cup under my belt.’
That base he built up at Bantry Bay RFC has stood to Josh. That’s where he learned the game. Eugene McCarthy, Philip Walters, his father Florence, they were all big influences on Josh in those early days.
Now he is taking those learnings to the next level with Ireland and Munster.