Friday 23 February 2018

Annett sounds call to arms

John Fallon, in Treviso

IRELAND U-20 captain Niall Annett insists that Ireland have recovered from Friday's agonising defeat to England and are relishing the chance to take on the mighty South Africa tonight as the Junior World Championship hits top gear.

Ireland face the Baby Boks in Italy tonight just four days after their high-tempo but ultimately fruitless clash with England, and just four days before they meet Scotland.

That 33-25 loss, with England's last-gasp try netting a bonus point and robbing Ireland of one, has meant that it is virtually impossible for Mike Ruddock's side to reach the semi-finals, but they are still eager to make the second tier of knockout games, where they will battle for places five to eight and a better seeding next year in South Africa.

For a time on Friday night in the sweltering heat in Treviso -- it was cool and wet for the days leading up to the game and has been since then -- it seemed Ireland were poised to pull off a great win as they came from behind in the dying moments, only to have it all snatched away from them.

"We were pretty gutted after it. The lads gave it everything and really showed their character. We thought we had it in the bag," said Belfast Harlequins and Ulster hooker Annett.

"The key in this tournament is dealing with the four-day turnaround between matches, it is so important to get that right.

"We are ready for South Africa and we will give it 100pc -- that's the least to be expected when you put on an Irish jersey."

Coach Ruddock has a full hand to select from, with the exception of replacement lock Shane Buckley, who received a one-match suspension following a citing for use of the knee on an opponent.

Given the demands of playing three matches in eight days, Ruddock has made five changes -- and the provincial breakdown is notable.

Four players from Connacht will start this evening -- five if you include scrum-half Kieran Marmion, soon to be heading into the western academy -- with six from Leinster, three from Ulster and one from Munster.

Tiernan O'Halloran of Galwegians comes in at full-back, with Craig Gilroy switching to left-wing in place of Andrew Boyle.

JJ Hanrahan of UL Bohemians, who impressed after being introduced against England, starts in place of Luke Marshall at outside centre, while James McKinney of Queen's takes over from Paddy Jackson at out-half after also doing well when he was brought on in Friday's game.

Up front, Danny Qualter of Buccaneers gets the nod over Iain Henderson in the second-row, while Aaron Conneely of Galway Corinthians starts in place of Dominic Gallagher in a game that Ireland must win.

Ruddock has been pleased with the improvement in his side and believes they are primed for a crack at the Springboks.

"It's tough with a four-day turnaround, but we have got to pick ourselves up from the England disappointment and play well against against South Africa," he said.

"But I think we showed the character of this team against England, we showed the positivity of this team and we showed some real good running rugby, and we need to just build on that."

South Africa have made nine changes to the side which opened their campaign with a 33-0 win over Scotland, and their skipper Arno Botha says the Baby Boks are capable of winning the tournament outright.

"We don't know much about Ireland but we want to improve each day," said the No 8, who crossed for a brace of tries in the rout of Scotland.

"We felt at the Scotland game that we need to work at keeping the ball and we need to have a greater physical presence.

"We have a big pack. In the last three years we found that New Zealand and England had bigger packs so we have brought a big pack this year, a lot of weight up front."

The Springboks will conclude their pool against England in Padua on Saturday in a tie that is likely to determine the group winners. Ireland would surely be content with a bonus point tonight, which would give them a great chance of a middle-tier finish by beating Scotland on Saturday.

Ireland -- T O'Halloran (Galwegians); A Conway (Blackrock), B Macken (Blackrock), JJ Hanrahan (UL Bohemians), C Gilroy (Dungannon); J McKinney (Queen's University), K Marmion (University of Wales Institute, Cardiff); J Tracy (UCD), N Annett (Belfast Harlequins), T Furlong (Clontarf); M Kearney (Clontarf), D Qualter (Buccaneers); J Murphy (Lansdowne), A Conneely (Corinthians), E McKeon (Galwegians). Reps: D Doyle (UCD), C Carey (Ballymena), I Henderson (Queen's), D Gallagher (Dublin University), P Du Toit (UCD), P Jackson (Dungannon), L Marshall (Ballymena).

South Africa -- U Beyers; C Skosan, B Moolman, F Venter, W Mjekevu; J Goosen, L Jacobs; S Kotze, M van Vuuren, JR Jenkinson; R Venter, E Etzebeth; N Carr, C du Preez, A Botha. Reps: B Mbonambi, N Schonert, J Cook, S Kolisi, P Rademan, J Welthagen, P Jordaan.

Ireland v South Africa,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 7.10

Irish Independent

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