PBC's Scannell to lead U-18s as Six Nations campaign kicks off in Wales
Pres Cork tight-head Niall Scannell will lead Ireland into the first of three tough tests at the U-18 Six Nations, held in Llandovery, Wales, over the next eight days.
First, Ireland will have to deal with a talented Welsh outfit that overpowered Scotland (30-3) at Melrose two weeks ago before losing to the England juggernaut (44-23) in Swansea last Sunday.
England are the benchmark at this level; they are unbeaten since April 2007. Ireland will tackle them next Tuesday. Still, Wales had them in trouble, leading 16-7 in the 43rd minute before running out of puff.
Wales coach Simon King is expected to have their youngest ever senior international Tom Prydie -- he made his Six Nations debut against Italy -- available and Wales will have the benefit of their previous games in this campaign, while Ireland come in cold.
The Irish can call on the experience of Scannell, lock Shane Buckley, wing Sam Coghlan-Murray, scrum-half Harry Doyle and prop Rory Harrison from last year's squad that beat Wales (22-15) and Italy (29-3).
Royal Armagh's Doyle is the only one of the five not to start. St Michael's Luke McGrath will work in tandem with Methodist's Paddy Jackson at half-back.
Ireland coach Terry McMaster has made two changes from the side which scalped Italy 60-3 in December. Scannell moves to tight-head from hooker to make way for Castletroy's James Rael. Harrison is preferred to King's Hospital's Des Merrey at loose-head.
This is a light-framed, under-powered Irish collection -- it always seems to be the case at this level -- brimful of footballing ability and rugby nous with the capacity to cause trouble with ball in hand.
Moreover, there are a number of 'talking players' involved, such as Rockwell's JJ Hanrahan, Ballymena's Charlie Simpson, Jackson, Buckley and the Connacht back-rowers Aaron Conneely and Daniel Qualter. They will be tested to the limit over the next eight days.
IRELAND U-18 (v Wales) -- C Simpson (Ballymena); S MacAuley (Clongowes Wood), P Nelson (Royal, Dungannon), JJ Hanrahan (Rockwell), S Coghlan-Murray (Newbridge); P Jackson (Methodist), L McGrath (St Michael's); R Harrison (Methodist), J Rael (Castletroy), N Scannell (PBC Cork, capt), S Buckley (Rockwell), Y Browne (CBC Cork), A Clarkin (Terenure), A Conneely (Colaiste Iognaid), D Qualter (Sligo Grammar).
Wales U-18 -- T Prydie; H Robinson, G North, L Williams, S Campbell; M Morgan, A Davies; R Evans, J Dando, S Lee; C Hill, L Hamilton; O Sheppeard, T Young (capt), D Baker.