By Graham Thomas
Sam Costelow will be expected to roll out the big gun when Wales face Ireland on Friday in their second match of the U20 Six Nations championship.
The young Scarlets fly-half is going to be told to get his long range kicking boots on as Wales plan to meet fire with fire against an Irish team who kicked a great deal in their opening win over Scotland.
It was Costelow’s assured place-kicking that proved critical for Wales in their 25-8 victory over Italy last Saturday at a rain-lashed Cardiff Arms Park.
But Wales coach Ioan Cunningham now expects his No.10 to be a busy man as a territorial kicker, returning Irish punts with interest, when the teams meet in a match that is being shown live on S4C.
The Irish used heavy artillery to quell the Scots last week in a crushing 38-7 win and Cunningham says: “Sometimes, when you are facing a kicking team, you have to kick back a lot as well.
“We expect a lot of kicks to come to us. We have to counter that and put the pressure back on them.
“Ireland have a big kicking threat. They like to kick a lot and their forwards like to go through the defence. Once they have possession, it’s hard to get it off them. So we have to really step up and be on our toes.”
Costelow was not only Wales’ most productive source of points against the Italians, but he also brought a calmness to his team in their first match of the delayed tournament.
For Cunningham – who worked with the 20-year-old at Parc y Scarlets – it is Costelow’s experience with the U20 team from last season as well as his handful of first team appearances for his region, that make him a significant figure for his age group team this time around.
“The experience he brings from last year is massive. It gives him composure in key moments.
“He slotted a key drop goal against Italy with a lovely piece of skill off his toes. It was brilliant and the boys enjoy working with him and learning from him.
“It’s not just the benefit of him being with us last year, but also from being with the Scarlets. It gives him confidence and authority.”
Wales did not play Christ Tshiunza – their imposing 17st 7lbs second row against Italy, but the Cardiff youngster, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who is capturing a lot of attention in the game in Wales, could be unleashed against the Irish.
Cunningham has declined to confirm whether Tshiunza – who has already been snapped up by Exeter Chiefs – will be drafted in to combat a powerful Irish pack, but the head coach did concede: “Possibly.
“We are looking to add some fresh energy so he is one that could potentially be involved this weekend.
“It’s important to reward success and good performances and to develop cohesion. But you also have to have a balance with providing energy in the group because it’s a short turnaround.
“A lot of guys are putting their hands up in training. It’s about building on the game we have had and having a structure that allows the boys to express themselves and their talent.”
Ireland scored five tries in their emphatic win over the Scots but the first half was tight and it remained a fairly even contest until Scotland flanker Harri Morris was shown a red card for taking out Ireland full-back Jamie Osborne in the air.
The Irish, though, did have the outstanding player from the first round of matches – their dynamic No.8 Alex Kendellen.
He scored one try and made numerous inroads into the Scottish defence and will present a different set of problems for the Welsh back row that includes the talented openside, Harri Deaves, the man of the match against the Azzurri, as well as No.8 Carwyn Tuipulotu.
“I thought Kendellen did very well against Scotland,” added Cunningham.
Sam Costelow – MOTM for me last night. Bossed the game for Wales U20s, especially in the second half, and clinical from the boot. He has the potential to shape into a real asset for the Scarlets. Great player. 💥
— Daniel Jenkins (@DanWJenkins) June 20, 2021
“He’s a big, powerful ball carrier and he’s explosive off the base of the scrum. It will be a good challenge for Carwyn.
“I think this will be a very different game against Ireland to the match against the Italians – 100 per cent.
“The weather did not allow us to put in the game plan we wanted against Italy. This week, we want to go wider and give our back three more ball. We want to express ourselves.”
“The Irish are very strong and they had a very good win against Scotland. We have done our work on them and it’s going to be a different type of challenge for us.”
S4C – Friday: 7.50pm – Clwb Rygbi
Six Nations U20, Wales v Ireland.
Join the Clwb Rygbi team live at the Arms Park for live coverage of the rugby match between Wales and Ireland in the Under-20 Six Nations Championship. English commentary available. K/O 8.00.