Wednesday 19 June 2019

Ireland U-20s braced for their toughest test yet

Noel McNamara has been forced to make two changes to the Irish team. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Noel McNamara has been forced to make two changes to the Irish team. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

After six wins from six this year, momentum is very much behind the Ireland U-20s as they prepare for what is likely to be their toughest test yet.

This afternoon's Junior World Cup pool game against Australia will be the first time that this Ireland team face southern hemisphere opposition.

The manner of Ireland's opening win over England reiterated how talented this year's crop are, but the Junior Wallabies will provide a very different challenge.

Like Ireland on the back of their Grand Slam success, Australia came in to this tournament full of confidence after winning the Oceania Rugby Championship, which included a stunning 24-0 win over New Zealand.

Former out-half Stephen Larkham, who has been strongly linked with a Munster coaching role, had been working with Australia in the lead-up to the World Cup and the slickness that their back-line plays will be interesting to watch.

So too will the man who sets that tempo. Scrum-half Michael McDonald, who was born in Louth and played his underage rugby with Dundalk before his family moved Down Under when he was 13, is one of Australia's key players.

"He's a good player, there is absolutely no doubt about that," Ireland U-20 head coach Noel McNamara acknowledged.

"I think there was an awareness of him within Irish rugby.

"There is a strong IQ (Irish-qualified) programme and they keep track of players all over the world.

"He's a big, physical player. There is absolutely no doubt about that and he is a threat we will be looking to negate."

For all of Australia's threats however, Ireland will be keeping the majority of their focus on themselves because what they have achieved up to this point, winning the Grand Slam and then putting England away in their tournament opener on Tuesday, has been stunning.

McNamara has been forced to make two changes to his starting XV as Iwan Hughes (finger) and Azur Allison (head) miss out, meaning Rob Russell is named at full-back and Ronan Watters comes in to a re-jigged back-row.

Hughes will miss the rest of the World Cup, as will Sean French after he damaged a cheekbone following his introduction against England.

Aaron O'Sullivan and Max O'Reilly have been called up and are due to join the squad shortly.

John Hodnett will again be crucial to getting his side over the gain-line as Jake Flannery looks to pull the strings outside of him at No 10.

Dealing with setbacks has been a hallmark of Ireland's year thus far and each time they have been hampered, the players have risen to the occasion.

Win today and they will have their eyes firmly on the big prize.

Verdict: Ireland

Ireland U-20s - R Russell; A Kernohan, L Turner, S Moore, J Wren; J Flannery, C Casey; J Wycherley, D Tierney-Martin, T Clarkson; C Ryan (capt), R Baird; D McCann, R Watters, J Hodnett. Reps: J McKee, M Milne, C Ward, D Adamson, N Murray, C Booth, T Ahern, C Reilly, B Healy, C Foley.

Australia U-20s - I Lucas; T Reilly, S Tupou, N Lolesio, M Nawaqanitawase; W Harrison, M McDonald; A Bell, L Lonergan, J Nasser; M Wood, T Hosea; H Wilson, F McReight (capt), W Harris. Reps: J Cotton, B Abra, D Breen, R Van Nek, E Ha'angana, N Frost, C Tizzano, P Tafa.

Ireland U-20s v Australia U-20s

Live, eir Sport, 2.30 (Irish time)

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