Belfast Telegraph

U19 Rugby World Cup: World is at your feet here, boys

By Micheal McGeary

This week's Under 19 World Cup kick-off in Belfast and Bangor will revive a host of happy memories for Paddy Wallace and Kieran Campbell.

Both Ulster players figured prominently when Ireland lifted the trophy for the only time nine years ago.

Wallace, who made the transition to Ireland's Six Nations squad this season, was still at Campbell College when he impressed sufficiently well in a trial to be included in the Under 19 squad for France 1998.

"I was just thrilled to have been part of such a wonderful achievement. You always aim to win every game you play, but in all honesty we didn't go to France expecting to come home as world champions," he said.

But the mood in the Irish camp was to change after overcoming a strong and fancied South Africa in the second game of the competition.

Wallace recalls: "They were well ahead at half time, but in the second half we were able to impose ourselves on the match and we actually drew the game.

"That performance gave us a real belief that, with a bit of luck, we could eventually go all the way and win it."

Wallace scored a try in the first half of the final against France, a game the men in green finished up winning 18-0.

Wallace and Campbell found themselves in some pretty useful company back then, Brian O'Driscoll and Donnacha O'Callaghan also figuring prominently as Ireland shook the rugby world to its foundation with a stunning and unforgettable success.

Before the Irish party headed to France, Kieran Campbell was convinced they had definite grounds for optimism, but it was something that wasn't talked about.

Like Paddy Wallace, he's convinced the game against South Africa was a defining moment in the team's success.

"Playing them gave us the opportunity to come together as a team and actually believe we had the potential to win the competition," Campbell remembers.

"We certainly met some quality sides. France, Argentina and South Africa were no pushovers, especially playing France at home.

"South Africa, though, were possibly the best of the three. They had the most complete side. The host country had loads of potential, but we managed to hit top form, went 11-0 up and never allowed them back into the match."

For someone just embarking on a professional rugby career, it was an unbelievable experience for the young Campbell, then with London Irish.

Now, as a new generation of Irish rugby players prepare to set out in pursuit of world success, Kieran Campbell urges them to go out and enjoy themselves.

He insisted: "It's important for these young lads that they play with a smile on their face. Ireland is becoming more and more one of the elite sides in world rugby.

"These boys know they are as good as anyone else in the compeition and it's important they go out and play their natural game."

Ireland's opening game on Thursday against Australia at Ravenhill will also be their most demanding.

The squad which finished fifth at the last tournament in Dubai, will face some serious competition in the days ahead - Scotland due at Ravenhill on Sunday, April 9 and South Africa four days later, all 7.30 evening kick offs.

"As always there are some disappointed players but the selections were difficult in many of the positions for the final squad," said Irish coach Charlie McAleese.

"The pressure of playing as tournament hosts will be a big part of our challenge, as will the top class opponents we will be facing.

"It doesn't get much tougher than playing the defending champions in your opening game and the Aussies are always exceptionally strong at this level."

Other players who have competed at this level and gone on to play international rugby include Andrew Trimble, Kiwis Daniel Carter and Richie McCaw, Aussie captain George Cregan and team-mate Drew Mitchell, Frederick Michalak of France and South African duo Percy Montgomery and Bryan Habana.

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