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Ireland’s Calvin Nash now fulfilling his considerable potential

Munster winger’s emergence was delayed by injuries but from a young age his star quality was apparent

Ten seasons ago, when Calvin Nash was just 16, he was already standing out from the crowd with Crescent Comprehensive.

They won the Munster Schools Senior Cup, beating Ardscoil Rís in the first ever all-Limerick final at Thomond Park and in his third season on the team they were beaten 9-8 by CBC in the final in Musgrave Park.

Gearóid Prendergast, the former Young Munster player and coach who also coached UL Bohemians, Richmond and the Irish Clubs side, and is now Munster academy manager, was among the crowd at one of Crescent’s Senior Cup games in the second of those seasons, 2014-15.

“I remember watching a game with one of my buddies and saying: ‘Jeez, who is this kid?’ Like, the way he was moving, his explosiveness, his speed and his feet were just so impressive. Then obviously when I got the Young Munster gig I was licking my lips,” adds Prendergast on becoming their head coach in the 2015-16 season.


“That year we had Fineen Wycherley, Gavin Coombes, Dan Goggin, Cian Bohan and you had Calvin Nash and Alan Tynan. So, it was a very exciting crop coming into Young Munster, but Calvin was just so explosive. It’s hard to describe how explosive he was at that age. He was the talk of Limerick.”

Nash swiftly became a regular in the first half of the season with Young Munster, a highlight being a try against Lansdowne on the Aviva back pitch in a 30-24 defeat on December 3rd.

“I remember Craig O’Hanlon, our winger, caught a clearance kick or box kick just inside our half. I was right across from it. Craig gave a long pass into the middle of the pitch to Calvin and literally, a slalom-type run – I’m going to say 10 or 11 defenders – and then scored under the posts.

“It had everything. It had speed, footwork, vision, scanning ahead of him. It was an incredible try.”

Nash had actually been part of a Young Munster side which won a Munster Junior Cup before sitting his Leaving Cert and recalls the ensuing season in the AIL as hugely beneficial.

“It’s just like building blocks, constantly just building on what you’ve done the year before. But I think coming out of school one thing you have in your head is that you’re playing against men and you’re not able for it. But you are well able for it, so it is another confidence builder I suppose.”

“He played 13, he played 15 and he played wing but what struck me with Calvin at 18/19, at that age they can be quite head down and quiet, but Calvin was head up and had quite good leadership qualities,” explains Prendergast, who wasn’t remotely surprised when Nigel Carolan not only called Nash into the Irish Under-20s team for the Six Nations game against France in Cork, but also made him captain.

Nash would play in three of Ireland’s Six Nations games, make his Munster debut as a first-season academy player, return to Young Munster for their march to the semi-finals and be Ireland’s leading try-scoring in the 2017 Junior World Championships.

“His trajectory was moving as you’d expect it to, but then the bloody injuries started kicking in and that set him back a bit,” says Prendergast, as Nash’s next two seasons were blighted by shoulder and ankle problems.

“I know he won’t mind me saying this because mentally it hit him hard. He went from being top dog in schools rugby and playing regularly to all of a sudden being a bit of a smaller fish in a bigger pool.”

Indeed, this week Nash confirmed as much.

“I just was not getting a look in at Munster at all. There was one season where I only played two games or something and I was like ‘I don’t know what I’m doing with myself’. It felt like I was caught in a rut and I was giving 100 per cent but I couldn’t get anything back, know that kind of way?”

Simon Zebo, who was injured at the same time, helped to keep Nash’s spirits up.

“I don’t know if I ever would have wanted to give up rugby. I was obviously at quite a low ebb. But naturally it’s nice to hear it from Zebo, who has ridiculous experience, to say ‘stick with it, you have unbelievable coaches coming in and they’ll end up picking you’. I could have thought Zebo was blowing smoke up my hole to be honest. But yeah, it was nice to hear.”

Nash hails from Crecora, a small village in Limerick. Not exactly fertile rugby territory.

“I was mad to try and get rugby into the primary school but they wouldn’t allow it. I just saw rugby on TV one time, my family were watching it, and I just asked my dad if I could play it and he brought me down to Young Munster and it kind of went from there. I fell in love with rugby and I went into Crescent then and it took off.

“I played hurling and football but I was actually useless at hurling. I wanted to give that up for ages but my parents wouldn’t allow me.”

Young Munster was his dad, Jason’s, club, albeit his background was refereeing, and there’s no real history of playing rugby in his family tree.

“I had been told that my granddad [Kieran Maher] had helped with the building of the Young Munster clubhouse, but I know that he didn’t actually play.”

Nash’s dad has his own driving instructor’s business and his parents have instilled in him a strong work ethic. He is studying for a degree in strength & conditioning, while of his two brothers, Brandon and Jordan, the former used to play in Young Munster.

As well as his struggle with injuries, nor did opportunities flow under Johann van Graan. In five seasons, Nash played just 36 games (and just one in the Champions Cup), scoring seven tries.

But the change in approach with Munster suited him, as was the case with Ireland, and to Andy Farrell’s credit he included Nash on the Emerging Ireland tour to South Africa in September 2022.

Nash started the wins over the Griquas and the Cheetahs to kickstart a breakthrough 2022-23 season. He played 17 games with Munster (including five in the Champions Cup) and has started another dozen this season, with his strike rate rising to 11 tries in 29 games for his province over the last two seasons.

No system is perfect and, with just four professional teams in Ireland, very often a talented player may simply not be afforded enough game time, the supply of which has also proved transformative for Hugo Keenan, Jack Crowley and others.

But a Test debut followed in the World Cup warm-up win over Italy (after which his initiation song was Ain’t No Mountain High Enough) and although he missed the cut for Le Mondial, Nash has vindicated Farrell’s faith in him filling the Mack Hansen void in all three Six Nations games to date.

Not all careers are linear and his former Young Munster coach, aka Gearóid, is not remotely surprised that things have come his way in his mid-20s.

“I have known the guy since he was 18 years of age. His maturity has grown as has his knowledge, but he’s a real student of the game. He contributes really well in team meetings and unit meetings, with very good insights, and has an unbelievable thirst for more knowledge and a craving to develop as a player.

“And by the way, a smashing young fella. Good craic. Likes a bit of a laugh. Just very well balanced and I get a sense he’s quite good at switching off as well, which he needs to do.”

Mike Prendergast knew of Nash through his older brother and the Crescent/Young Munster grapevine, having come through the same pathway himself. During his 10 years in France, the younger Prendergast was kept informed about the young winger before returning home to be the Munster backs’ coach prior to the start of last season.

“He’s a player that really suits us as coaches and the way we want to play and it’s the same with Ireland. He’s an excellent player. I saw him when he was playing with Munster and I was abroad. You could see what he’s about and I think with us he really goes out and expresses himself and it’s the same with Ireland.

“He’s very quick, powerful, very good under the high ball, both in attack and defensively; he may not be the tallest but he has incredible spring and you can see his ability with both teams when he swings, when he gets in off his wing, he’s hitting himself in good positions, whether he’s finishing scores or being that extra set of hands,” says the younger Prendergast, who also cites Nash’s ability to scan and carry hard into contact without slowing down.

“He’s a player that also takes on coaching. He’s actually very calm but he’s extremely driven and he’s a good learner.”

All of this was illustrated by Nash working across from his right-wing to score in the left corner in the Stade Velodrome, and after a more orthodox right-winger’s finish against Italy, Farrell would have particularly liked Nash’s contribution to James Lowe’s touchdown against Wales.

Nash had kept the ball alive on the right flank when tackled off a long, floated pass by Gibson-Park before working across the pitch and, four phases later, took Jack Crowley’s pass to lay on Lowe’s finish with a one-handed flick over Josh Adams’ shoulder. He could have been Hansen in disguise.

“To be honest, I wanted to score the try myself but then I was thinking ‘I’m going to be murdered if I don’t give this to Lowey’. But obviously it was the right thing to do,” he reflected this week.

Work-rate, skillset, scanning, an unselfish team player, and as a sometime centre and fullback, Nash is Farrell’s kind of winger.

And Mike Prendergast’s too.

“I believe that the number on your back, as a back, shouldn’t matter the way we set up and the way Ireland set up. You want your wingers, and your centres, to be comfortable as first receiver.”

Both Prendergasts firmly believe that as a relatively low-mileage 26-year-old, with his smartness, work ethic, coachability and drive, Nash’s best is still to come.