Tuesday 23 July 2019

McNamara wary of Italy as U-20s face battle to make last four

Lock Ryan Baird. Photo: Sportsfile
Lock Ryan Baird. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Such is the increasingly attritional nature of U-20s rugby, Ireland were never likely to arrive at their final World Cup pool game with a fully fit squad to pick from.

Those worst fears have come to pass as Ireland go into this afternoon's decisive clash against Italy in Santa Fé without a host of front-liners.

John Hodnett (knee) and Stewart Moore (shoulder), who were both enjoying a fine run, became the latest players to fly home from Argentina with the uncapped Luke Clohessy and David Ryan, younger brother of Ireland international James, called up to the squad and named on the bench.

Losing such a key duo was the last thing that Ireland needed, but they will back the strength within their squad to come up with a big bonus-point victory that would give themselves a chance of making the semi-final.

It's been a cruel run of injuries for the Grand Slam champions, who with their full complement would fancy themselves against any team.

As it is, however, Noel McNamara has to juggle his resources for a game that has a two-fold meaning.

On one hand, Ireland are desperate to make the last four and as tough a task as that will be, as long as there is a chance, they won't give up.

But on the other hand, McNamara is conscious that this has very much been a squad effort and rewarding young players who have given a huge amount to the cause behind the scenes is also important.

Playing three games in nine days is a slog and with players at this level becoming fitter, faster and stronger, the toll on their bodies is inevitable.

Despite the setbacks, there is more than enough quality within the starting XV to beat Italy for a second time this year. Switching Jake Flannery to full-back and re-introducing Ben Healy at out-half should give McNamara's more of a cutting edge, while Ulster winger Angus Kernohan is still waiting for that one moment to light up his campaign.

Lock Ryan Baird escaped a suspension and having him available is a huge boost to a pack that has a very different look to it.

Italy gave England a mighty fright last weekend and Ireland will be mindful of that. "The Italians are and have been, very competitive at this level," McNamara warned. "They got a losing bonus point, but I think the feeling there would be that they should have won the game.

"They certainly had chances and opportunities into the second half to put England away, so I have no doubt they are going to come back and absolutely be up for the challenge."

Ireland must keep up their side of the bargain, but even if they get a convincing bonus-point win, it may not be enough to advance to the last four as the best runner-up.

Verdict: Ireland

Ireland U-20s - J Flannery; A Kernohan, L Turner (capt), C Foley, R Russell; B Healy, C Reilly; J Wycherley, J McKee, M Milne; T Ahern, R Baird; D McCann, C Booth, A Allison. Reps: D Adamson, T Clarkson, C Ward, D Tierney-Martin, C Ryan, N Murray, L Clohessy, C Casey, J Wren, D Ryan, A O'Sullivan, M O'Reilly.

Italy U-20s - A Capuozzo; J Trulla, F Mori, D Mazza, C Lai; P Gabrisi, A Fusco; L Michelini, N Taddia, M Nocera; N C Stoian, T Parolo; A Mauirzi, D Ruggeri (capt), A Koffi. Reps: A Marinello, M Drudi, L Franceschetto, F Alongi, A Zambonin, A Chianucci, M Finotto, L Citton.

REF - R Rasivhenge (South Africa)

Ireland U-20s v Italy U-20s, Live, eir Sport, 2.30

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