Turner not distracted by comparisons as Ireland bid for Grand Slam glory

LIAM TURNER SMILES, but as a promising outside centre from the Blackrock College nursery, the comparisons are inevitable. 

“Nah, I don’t think there’s pressure,” he insists. “Obviously the school has produced a few well-known 13s, but I don’t really focus on that. I just focus on myself.”

That’s not to say Turner, who captained Blackrock to their 69th Leinster Senior Schools Cup title last year, doesn’t want to follow in the footsteps of Brian O’Driscoll or Garry Ringrose. He just wants to thread his own path.

Turner pictured in Dublin yesterday. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The 19-year-old has started all four of Ireland’s victories in the U20 Six Nations, forming a strong midfield partnership with captain David Hawkshaw, and then Munster’s Sean French in last Friday’s championship-clinching win over France.

As one of Noel McNamara’s leadership group, Turner’s presence in the 13 jersey has been an important factor in Ireland’s success, with his decision-making and communication key strengths, while he possesses excellent footwork and acceleration. 

Now a member of the Leinster sub-academy, the exciting prospect has played seven AIL games for Trinity this season, making excellent progress in developing all facets of his game, notably his rugby intellect and overall conditioning. 

“I go into matches wanting to do my job,” Turner says. “We have a motto in our team, ‘we do things in our team to make others around us look good.’ Those sacrificial acts. I am very happy with my performances so far. I just want to make sure I give one good last one.

In scoring two tries during his campaign, Turner has displayed his strengths on both sides of the ball, bringing plenty of energy and intensity to Ireland’s performances while providing defensive resilience in the busy midfield channel.

With Hawkshaw ruled out through injury, Turner is again expected to partner French in that 12-13 axis for McNamara’s side against Wales, as they bid to become just the second Ireland U20s team to win a Grand Slam.

After thrilling home wins over England and France, either side of away victories in Scotland and Italy, this group have remained focused on the task in hand despite clinching the championship in front of a capacity crowd at Musgrave Park last weekend.

Their celebrations extended to a few pizzas while re-watching the match back in the team hotel, another indication of just how concentrated Ireland are on finishing the job this Friday night.

“After the Italy game it became a real possibility [winning the Grand Slam] and Stuart Lancaster came into us after that game and made the point that we shouldn’t hide away from it, that we should make it a serious goal,” Turner continues.

The outside centre has impressed during the Six Nations. Source: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

“From the way played we could see that we could definitely do it and it was just about having that confidence going into the last two matches, that we could go and win.

“It would be bitterly disappointing not to do it because we have such an opportunity to do something that not a lot of teams have done. That’s the mindset of this team, we’re not satisfied. We’re obviously in a good place but we want to go on and win again this Friday.”

But a trip to Colwyn Bay presents its own challenges, not least because Ireland have never won there, but Wales will pose a physical threat. 

“They are a very direct side, very good defensively, get off the line very quickly and try and suffocate you,” Turner adds.

“Two years ago we would have played them at U18s level. We managed to win that one, it was a bit like the French game, very back and forwards, they’d score, we’d score and we actually came back from three tries down in the last 20-minutes to win it in the end. We know they are a very good side, a physical side. We are definitely wary of them.

“But it’s kind of hard to put into words what it would mean to win a Grand Slam. Only four Irish teams have been able to do it in the past so it would just be incredible.”

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