Ireland Under-20s hammered Scotland 82-7 on their way to securing a clean-sweep of victories in this year’s age-grade Six Nations, while their senior men’s team are ranked number one in the world, having also won a Grand Slam this year. That was their fourth Six Nations title in nine years – while Scotland finished third in the table, which is as high as they have managed since the turn of the century. It is a stark contrast given that pre the 21st century these were two closely matched rugby nations, with Scotland tending to have the edge in one-on-one clashes (60 wins versus 45, with five draws).
“Ireland are maybe 10 years down that road having invested in players as 14 or 15-year-olds, and the under-20s over the last three or four years have been successful off the back of that,” said Carolan, who is ideally placed to compare and contrast the rugby fortunes of these two nations given that he previously spent 13 years as the academy manager for his home province of Connacht. “But it’s not like they invested specifically in the under-20s – that’s just a by-product of the system they have created. They’re in a golden era now and all they know is winning, so it’s become part of their DNA.”
While Scotland have been left behind by Ireland during the last two decades, Carolan believes that this lost ground can be recovered. “It will come in Scotland once they get the right foundations in place and the investment is put in the right area which is the young lads,” he explained. “There has to be an understanding that patience is required, and you have to start at the beginning. It’s not a top-down approach, it’s actually a bottom-up approach that has brought that success in Ireland.”
Carolan will be involved in another match-up between Scottish and Irish rugby this weekend when Glasgow take on Munster at Thomond Park in Limerick on Saturday evening.