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Ireland U-20s get opportunity to stake their claim

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Noel McNamara. Photo: Sportsfile

Noel McNamara. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Noel McNamara. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland U-20s will have the first of their two annual hit-outs with the senior team at Cork IT today. The open nature of the training session means supporters will be given a rare insight into what goes on behind the scenes.

Although these encounters have, generally, embraced a family feel, they have become feisty affairs in recent years. The U-20s will provide the opposition to Andy Farrell's men, as they prepare for Sunday week's crucial trip to Twickenham.

But don't expect the youngsters to just stand there, holding tackle bags and making up the numbers. They will recognise this as a big opportunity catch Farrell's eye and will be doing everything they can to stand out from the crowd.

This time last year, Harry Byrne and Ryan Baird were in the same situation before being called up to the Six Nations squad as development players last month.

Before them, the likes of James Ryan and Jacob Stockdale did the same, and Noel McNamara will be keen to remind his players of that.

It's something Joe Schmidt valued highly and now that Farrell has adopted the same mindset, McNamara is hoping that his youngsters make the most of it.

"You would have heard Joe speaking about the U-20s playing against the seniors - there was a cracking training session last year in Queen's up in Belfast," the Ireland U-20s head coach said.

"It just gives a little window for those players to show what they are about. I have no doubt Harry and Ryan would have impressed in that window last year. Others as well."

McNamara has built up a close relationship with Farrell, and praised the advice that the new Ireland boss passed on when he took on a short-term role in New Zealand two years ago. Having that close bond between the two head coaches is crucial for the development of the country's next crop.

"I know Andy very well," McNamara added. "Prior to him getting the job, one of the first people I contacted before I went down to North Harbour to run the defence, was Andy. I would have met with him and he was very giving with his time. Andy is extremely knowledgeable, extremely experienced. I've always found that and I've no doubt that will still be the case."

Irish Independent