“SAM PRENDERGAST. REMEMBER the name my friends.”
An endorsement like that from All Blacks legend Sonny Bill Williams was the highest compliment possible to cap off a superb performance. It was directed at the Ireland U20 out-half Sam Prendergast. And deservedly so.
The Ireland U20s had just opened their Six Nations Grand Slam defence with an accomplished 44-27 win away to Wales, and Prendergast was the general behind it all.
From the tee, he kicked two penalties and three out of a possible five conversions to ensure a satisfactory kicking rate by the end of Friday night. He was equally effective in play, producing flashes of brilliance throughout a 10-try thriller in Colwyn Bay.
On 54 minutes, he did this. After collecting a clever pop pass from John Devine, Prendergast tossed the ball out wide for a skip pass to full-back James Nicholson who charged over for Ireland’s third try of the night.
Just after the hour mark, and with Ireland holding a precarious four-point lead, Prendergast played a crucial, if perhaps, unseen part in extending their advantage further. A pass from Paddy McCarthy was about to hit the surface and potentially find its way in the hands of an opponent, but Prendergast was alert to leap forward, protect possession, and keep the offloads coming.
A few passes later, and Ruadhán Quinn was barrelling over for another try to wrap up the bonus point.
With 65 minutes on the clock, Prendergast struck again, linking up with Nicholson for another score. After shaking off one defender, he drew another opponent near the Welsh corner before releasing the ball with a flourish to put Nicholson through.
Sonny Bill Williams really did sum up Prendergast’s input perfectly.
The younger brother of Connacht and Ireland international, Cian, young Sam Prendergast is making inroads in the number 10 jersey.
This is his second season in Richie Murphy’s side, and he has been making an impression since last summer during the U20 Summer Series. In just his second start, Prendergast kicked an impressive 15 points against England, including an excellent long-range penalty to seal the win.
In addition to Prendergast’s fine display, it was an important result to get after suffering defeats to France and South Africa earlier in the competition. His prolific display drew praise from head coach Murphy.
“It was great to give him that opportunity,” he said after the game, “and to be fair to him it never looked like it was going anywhere else, and what people won’t realise was that it was going into a bit of a breeze as well.
“It was great for him, he’s an Under-19 out-half, he’s come in, he’s worked really hard and stepped up and filled a hole as our two first-choice out-halves are both out injured at the moment.”
That was a particularly proud time for the Prendergast family as their other son Cian was on tour with the Ireland seniors squad in New Zealand.
Like his older sibling, Prendergast is a product of the rugby nursery at the famous Newbridge College. In an interview last year, Cian explained that it was only when they started matriculating at the Kildare school that the Prendergasts “started playing rugby fully and seriously.”
Cian is touching 6ft 5ins while Sam is just an inch shorter, but every bit as imposing. The little brother started out his rugby career as a scrum-half, but an interview with Brendan O’Brien in the Irish Examiner revealed that Sam switched to the out-half position “following a growth spurt.”
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Sam reached a Leinster Senior Schools Cup final with Newbridge in 2020 but the game was cancelled on account of the Covid-19 pandemic, meaning both sides shared the honours. He now plays his club rugby for Lansdowne FC and is in the Leinster academy system, providing cover at out-half in the early stages of this season.
He also he travelled over to Gloucester with the Leinster senior squad for their Champions Cup game last month and took part in the warm-up.
Ireland’s U20 Six Nations continues this weekend as Ireland welcome France to Musgrave Park on Friday night. The visitors also have a win under their belt after their one-point victory against Italy in their championship opener.
Ulster’s James McNabney and Leinster pair Diarmuid Mangan and Conor O’Tighearnaigh are the three players who were involved for last year’s Six Nations-winning campaign, and Prendergast is leading the line for the title defence.
If Sonny Bill Williams is correct, his name will be living long in the memory.
U20 Six Nations
Ireland v France, Musgrave Park [kick-off, 8pm] – RTÉ 2
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