Clarke targets last-four spot as Irish gear up for French revenge mission
Ireland's U-20s will look to build on the Six Nations title they won in March when they open their IRB Junior World Championships campaign against France in Rosario, Argentina this afternoon.
The Irish will be all too familiar with their opponents, given they are sharing the same hotel and Les Bleus were the only team to beat them during the spring.
France represent the first hurdle in what is set to be a gruelling two weeks for Allen Clarke's young side. Today's opener will be followed by a group game against England on Wednesday, and hosts Argentina lie in wait next Sunday in what could be a winner-takes-all affair.
The IRB's decision to cut the Junior World Cup from 16 teams to 12 was designed to make the competition more competitive, and the result is three potential pools of death, with Ireland's looking the tightest with only the top team assured of a semi-final spot.
Ireland went down 20-15 to France in their second Six Nations game at Beguere in February, before recovering to beat England, Wales and finally Scotland to take the title. The hosts dominated the set-piece that night, while their strong backs have the potential to punish any team if let in behind.
Coach Clarke (below) has opted to keep faith with the team that hammered the Scots in Athlone to secure the Six Nations, and while he is mindful of the tough task ahead, he says his goal is for Ireland to reach the semi-finals.
"We want to get out of our group as the No 1 seeds," he said. "If you do that, anything is possible; that's our goal. If you look at our group, you imagine that only one team is going to go through to the knockout stages. All of the teams have the potential to beat one another so if you lose one game then you can't lose sight of your ambitions.
"Our focus has solely been on France and we're not getting too far ahead of ourselves. It's going to be a tight group and it's going to come down to fine lines in games and the ability to deal with critical moments as well."
FRANCE -- B Dulin (Agen); C Lagain (Bayonne), R Lamerat (Toulouse), R Bartholomew (Toulon), J Sinzelle (Toulon); JM Doussain (Toulouse), A Bales (Agen); X Chiocci (Toulon), M Ivaldi (capt, Toulon), S Abadie (Agen); J Souza (Lyon), G Often (La Rochelle); A Roulin (Clermont), T Molcard (Biarritz), A Erban (Agen). Reps: K Le Guen (Stade Rochelais), E Ben Arous (Racing Metro), R Taofifenua (Perpignan), K Gimeno (Beziers), G Bosch (Perpignan), M Lamoulie (Agen), H Bonneval (Stade Francais).
IRELAND -- A Conway (Blackrock/Leinster); T O'Halloran (Galwegians/Connacht), E Griffin (Corinthians/Connacht), N Spence (Ballynahinch/Ulster), S Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster); I McKinney (QUB/Ulster), J Cooney (UCD/Leinster); J O'Connell (Lansdowne/Leinster), N Annett (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), S Maguire (Old Belvedere/Leinster); D O'Callaghan (Cork Constitution/Munster), B Marshall (UCD/Leinster), R Ruddock (capt) (UCD/Leinster), D Ryan (Lansdowne/Leinster), P Butler (Shannon/Munster). Reps: D Doyle (UCD/Leinster), B Cagney (UCC/Munster), B Hayes (Cork Constitution/Munster), B O'Hara (UL Bohemian/Munster), M Heaney (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), N Reid (UCD/Leinster), D Hudson (St Mary's/Leinster).