The Wales under-20 youngsters will learn from the harsh lessons following last week’s Six Nations defeat to Ireland, says coach T Rhys Thomas.
The Cardiff Blues coach is part of Ioan Cunningham’s backroom staff for this year’s campaign, which is held entirely at Cardiff Arms Park, taking charge of the line-outs.
After an opening day win over Italy, Wales fell to a 40-12 defeat against a strong Ireland outfit, despite second half scores from captain Alex Mann and Carrick McDonnough.
Former Cardiff and Wales hooker, Thomas, has emphasised the importance of keeping their emotions in-check as they prepare for Thursday’s encounter against France.
“It was hugely disappointing after coming in off the back of the performance and the result against Italy,” said Thomas.
“That was a huge high for these boys, and some of them haven’t played for 18 months, and that almost seemed like their World Cup final.
“So we probably fell off the edge of the cliff a little bit after the game and then needing to get up, emotionally, against Ireland was a huge learning curve for us as a group.
“We want to keep them on the even keel going into this week after that Ireland game.
“We have an inexperienced squad with a lot of boys in their first year of under-20 rugby, and you could see the difference in Ireland with the off-the-ball stuff they did and they were a bit more street-wise than we were.
“A year of difference at that age is huge and having spoken to some of our younger boys, they’ve learned so much just off the back of that one game. For their development, last week was a huge learning tool for us.
“I don’t want to use age as an excuse. I know I’ve mentioned it but Ireland were better than us on the day.
“You also look at how many of the 20s teams that have gone on to play for the seniors, and you look at players who could still play at this level - the likes of Ben Carter and someone called Louis Rees-Zammit.
“Mason Grady is another one who has unfortunately suffered an injury. There’s some starts in there but for everyone here that’s achievable.
“Depth-wise in Wales, they shouldn’t be too far away for obvious reasons.
“From a line-out point-of-view we haven’t been happy with the way we’ve started each game. It’s been a little bit inconsistent.
“We’ve put a huge emphasis this week on our start and the basics, such as calling the right calls in the right areas of the field
“Hopefully that will put us in good stead heading into Thursday. Again we’ve tried to worry about ourselves. With a six-day turnaround, all we can do is worry about what we’re able to do and prepare for the weekend as best as we can. That’s helped us.”
A total of eight Cardiff players are involved in the 32-man squad for the campaign.
Friday’s match welcomed the players’ families to the stands, forming a limited crowd at the Arms Park for the first time since the pandemic started in 2020.
After forming a bubble for the entire campaign, Thomas has enjoyed getting to know his players but says it was an emotional moment as a sense of normality was restored at the Arms Park.
“Emotionally, their parents were there last week and it was something we thought was a great idea at the time.
“It all added to the occasion. Some of them haven’t played for a long time, and we still have boys who are still in school so haven’t even been away from home.
“It was class. At the end of the game, we told the players to go to see their parents and it was hugely emotional for everyone.
“Even though we lost and that was disappointing, it was really good they could see their family and be normal for a minute - while staying socially distanced of course!
““That first week was a realisation about what it’s all about but this week has been a little bit harder - being away from your family and thinking about rugby 24/7.
“We’ve had the high, we’ve had the low and hopefully we can go even into this week.
“We’ve got to know the boys’ quality in camp beforehand, but now you get to know them as people and as men.
“You realise how to get to know a person on a personal level and there’s a lot of youngsters alongside older boys who have been in this position before.
“It’s a good chance to catch up with the boys, have a coffee around the hotel and chat about things other than rugby. I don’t want to talk about rugby all the time, that’s for sure!
“For myself, it’s a lot harder than I thought, to be fair, especially with the turnaround. Similar to the senior side at Cardiff Blues, you’re having to look at the next game just as this one is coming up.
“You try to get ahead of the game, but I’m really enjoying it. It’s a good test for everyone and it’s more learning for me.”