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Captain Annett backs Irish to land U-20 world title


Niall Annett. Photo: Getty Images

Niall Annett. Photo: Getty Images

Niall Annett. Photo: Getty Images

Ireland were thumped last time they met England, but captain Niall Annett believes they can shock the old enemy in their U-20 World Championship opener today -- and go on to win the whole tournament.

England ran out 46-15 winners in Athlone in March on their way to a Grand Slam -- but only four Irish players have survived from that night.

Ireland were sorely depleted back then by injuries and Magners League commitments. Hooker Annett, who missed the Dubarry Park defeat as he was on duty with Ulster, is confident Ireland can not only reverse that result, but also land the title.

"The English are a very strong team -- they won a Grand Slam. We are underdogs and that is okay with us. We'll just go about our business," he said.

"We think we are good enough to win this tournament. We wouldn't be here if we didn't think we were good enough to win."

Annett, one of eight in the squad who also played in last year's event in Argentina where Ireland lost all three pool games, said that the Irish backs were capable of unlocking any defence.

"We have a lot of strength in the back line. They have a lot of Magners League experience, guys who have played up to 10 times and scored a lot of tries in the Magners League. The back line is a very exciting prospect if we can get good ball to them as a pack," he added.

Coach Mike Ruddock feels that the much-changed Irish side could catch England cold in the opening game. He is boosted by the availability of flanker Jordi Murphy, who had been doubtful with an ankle injury.

"All those changes will make it a lot harder for them to analyse us and work out where we might have the threats," said the man who led the Wales senior side to the 2005 Grand Slam.

"It is positive mentally for us because we were well beaten on that night in Athlone. We have a totally different team now with different players -- players who have a lot of experience under their belts, particularly in terms of the pro game.

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"We think we can really give a good account of ourselves."

England, who finished fourth in last year's tournament, have named the same XV that won in Dubarry Park -- which means that out-half Owen Farrell, the hero for Saracens in their Aviva Premiership final win, has to settle for a place on the bench.

Farrell, son of former dual code international Andy, held the record for being the youngest player in a professional game, but that was broken by George Ford, son of former Irish and current English defence coach Mike, who has been given the No 10 shirt for this encounter.

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

England -- B Ransom (Saracens); A Short (Worcester), E Daly (Wasps), R Mills (Gloucester), J Joseph (London Irish); G Ford (Leicester), C Cook (Bath); M Vunipola (Bristol), M Haywood (Northampton), H Thomas (Sale); J Launchbury (Wasps), C Matthews (Harlequins); M Kvesic (Worcester), M Everard (Leicester), A Gray (capt, Newcastle). Reps: R Buchanan (Harlequins); R Bower (Leicester), S Twomey (Harlequins), S Jones (London Wasps), D Robson (Gloucester), O Farrell (Saracens), M Yarde (London Irish).

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