Munster's Fineen Wycherley, left, has impressed in his 11 appearances for the province in the Guinness PRO14 this season
FINEEN Wycherley’s act of defiance last Christmas before a sell-out crowd at Thomond Park made him an instant fans’ favourite with the tens of thousands of Munster fans packed into the stadium for the fiery derby clash with Leinster.
With just over two minutes gone in a feisty December 29 Guinness PRO 14 derby clash, 21-year-old flanker Wycherley produced a thunderous hit on Leinster’s Jonny Sexton, just as the vastly experienced Ireland out-half off-loaded the ball.
Driven backwards at a rate of knots, 2018 World Player of the Year Sexton took exception to the tackle and proceeded to whip Wycherley’s scrum cap off his head and threw it at his opponent.
The Munster flanker, making just his fourth ever start for the province in the PRO14, didn’t take it lying down, however.
Instead, he lifted Sexton off the ground and hovered over him, before Jack Conan arrived to offer the Ireland out-half assistance.
Munster supporters had a new young buck to place their faith in.
Wycherley had announced his arrival in rugby’s big time, he would not take a backward step in the white heat of battle, no matter how big the opponents’ reputation might be.
03: Early warning for Johnny Sexton at Thomond Park.— eir Sport (@eirSport) December 29, 2018
The Munster fans aren't happy, but the 'correct call' says Stephen Ferris.
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Recalling that night at Thomond Park this week, Wycherley said: “I think growing up they were the big games, the ones against Leinster and I went to all those with my Dad and my brothers and the whole family and I think playing in that game was a massive thing for me.
“Over Christmas we found out that Pete (Peter O’Mahony) was being rested and it was my chance to get a start and I think it was playing on my mind all Christmas.
“I knew I just had to start well and get into the game early and I wasn’t trying to take anyone out or anything like that it was just the tackle and just because it was Johnny Sexton it was obviously blown up a lot more. It was more to get me into the game rather than take anybody else out of the game.
“It was just for me to settle the nerves and I knew then I was ready once I got that bit of an edge on me I knew I was ready to go.”
So how did he feel about having his scrum cap removed by the Ireland out-half?
“I wasn’t too happy to be honest with you. I had to change to white (scrum cap). I’ve gone from blue to white!
“Myself and Tadhg Beirne had to change it up because we were getting mixed up the whole time so I’ve gone to white now. I had to buy the new one!.”
This has been a breakthrough season for West Cork native Wycherley, who has lined out for Young Munster in the All-Ireland League.
To date the former Ireland U20 international has made 11 appearances for Munster in the PRO14, racking up six starts.
“I’ve been here now for what, two or three years? And this is the first year that I have got a proper good chance and got a good couples of runs of games.
“I got a game or two in the first season and four or five in the second season and I’ve got a proper run of games this season.
“I was happy with the pre-season, I got injured I think it was around this time last year I had surgery on my ankle and I had about 10 weeks and I knew the likes of JK (Jean Kleyn) Daz (Darren O’Shea) were beefier than me up top, so I had to put on a lot of size up top and I just focused on that for the 10 or 12 weeks.
“The big focus for me was to start the preseason well and hopefully get the starts at the start of the season to make an impression.”
Unsurprisingly, Wycherley’s head coach Johann van Graan has been impressed with the Leinster Schools Senior Cup winner with Cistercian College Roscrea.
So what did he make of the incident between young gun Wycherley and Sexton in that interpro derby at Christmas.
Van Graan said: “I wouldn’t want to comment on the incident itself, but he (Fineen Wycherley) is a guy that stands his ground. Even in our training environment he is never shy of contact.
“He will never take a backwards step. That is just the personality that he is. A lot of players can make a lot of noises but they don’t always back it up with actions. He backs it up with actions.
“I have been really pleased with him playing for Munster.”