Clarke warns Irish to keep eye on ball
Published 19/03/2010 | 05:00
IRELAND'S U-20 team can all but secure championship honours in Athlone tonight when Scotland visit the midlands -- but they will have to wait until Sunday before they can be confirmed as champions.
Allen Clarke's side are tied with England at the top of the table with six points, though they currently hold a 17-point score difference advantage over the Roses, who do not play their final game of the championship until Sunday when they face a difficult trip to face France.
Scotland must be put to the sword first but at a venue where they have lost just once in five seasons, Clarke's side are expected to secure victory. And with the landslide victory England require looks unlikely on form, Ireland should secure their first title at this level since 2007.
Back then, Eric Elwood guided a star-studded side -- which contained the likes of Keith Earls, Cian Healy and Darren Cave -- to Grand Slam success and the current generation are also sprinkled with class.
Full-back Andrew Conway touched down twice against England at Kingsholm and has since made his first senior appearance for Leinster. Skipper Rhys Ruddock has been impressive, while hooker Niall Annett gave a man-of-the-match performance in last week's win over Wales.
But Clarke has warned his side against complacency. "The players are aware of the consequences of the game and the opportunity as a result of the performances to date," he said.
"However, the approach is to focus on the things which we can control. In simple terms, respecting the opposition in preparing for 'another Test match' with the same diligence, concentration and desire to improve individually and collectively, while ensuring rest and enjoyment at the appropriate times."
And the Dubarry Park factor is not lost on the visitors, who have won just once in the campaign when they narrowly beat Italy in Cagliari.
"Ireland are a good side and we respect them -- but we certainly don't fear them," said Scotland head coach Eamon John. "They've made Athlone a bit of a fortress, but we're going to concentrate on the lessons learned through experience against England and go there with a real hunger."
Clarke has made two changes for the game, with Cork Con's Simon Zebo returning to the starting line-up in place of the injured Darren Hudson on the left wing, while Corinthians starlet Eoin Griffin -- who was a try scorer as a replacement in the win over Wales -- comes in for Brendan Macken at outside centre.
Ireland U-20 -- A Conway; T O'Halloran, E Griffin, N Spence, S Zebo; J McKinney, J Cooney; J O'Connell, J Annett, S Maguire; D O'Callaghan, B Marshall; R Ruddock (Capt), D Ryan, P Butler. Reps: R Byrne, B Cagney, B Hayes, R O'Sullivan, M Heaney, G Quinn McDonogh, B Macken.
Scotland U-20 -- T Brown; O Grove, J Johnstone, A Dunbar, D Fife; A Blair, A Black; N Little, A Walker, C Phillips; M Reid, R Harley; M Maltman, D Denton, S McInally Reps: L Gibson, G Hunter, A Hall, C Stidston-Nott, K Hamilton, M Scott, D Weir.
Ireland U-20 v Scotland U-20,
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