IRELAND U20 v NEW ZEALAND U20
Stade de la Rabine, Vannes, 5.45
(Irish time) – TG4
It has come down to this. Ireland and New Zealand have both beaten Australia by four points, and the Kiwis and Irish demolished Fiji to set up a pool decider for a guaranteed semi-final place at a sold-out Vannes this evening.
Coach Mike Ruddock's main headache, apart from all the weapons NZ bring, is the departure of centre, primary gain-line breaker and frontline goal-kicker Tom Daly as a result of a broken hand. It will put extra pressure on the shoulders of fly-half Steve Crosbie to burden the responsibility of turning pressure into points in a match where every chance will have to be taken.
Crosbie's special gifts come out of the hands of his distribution as a man who can send runners into space rather than the open arms of a brutal Kiwi defence led by captain Ardie Savea.
The most impressive aspect of this Irish U20 edition is the level standard throughout the squad with excellent cover in many positions. Sadly, the physical dimensions that 6'4" 16 stone Daly brings to the party as a bulwark for his wider men has been removed.
This is where Ruddock will have to deliver an altered game plan, based on streamlined organisation, a sure defence and a stealthy attack.
The Irish scrum has been a weapon too hard to handle for Australia and Fiji and the lineout and maul has been another source of go-forward.
They will surely seek to slow down the pace of the game, limit space and deny New Zealand the time to work their magic. If they can do that, the tournament favourites might just falter like they did in the second half against Australia. If they can't, it could be a long night.
Ireland: D Leader; A Byrne, T Farrell, R Scannell, R Scholes; S Crosbie, L McGrath (capt); P Dooley, G McGuigan, C Taylor, G Thornbury, J Donnan, D Leavy, J van der Flier, C Joyce.