Sunday 20 October 2019

Ireland U-20s aim to topple world champions and keep Grand Slam dream alive

Several players are involved again and they will be aiming to derail Ireland’s potential Grand Slam decider in Wales next week (stock photo)
Several players are involved again and they will be aiming to derail Ireland’s potential Grand Slam decider in Wales next week (stock photo)
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Any talk of winning a historic first Grand Slam at U-20s level must be put on hold until Ireland find a way to see off the defending world champions, who still have their sights set on winning the Six Nations.

That Ireland have only won the championship once in the tournament's 10-year history illustrates just how difficult it is to be successful at this level, but this year's crop have put themselves in with a great shout of ending the barren run.

Victories over England, Scotland and Italy mean that Ireland are the only team who can win the Slam and as they return to Irish Independent Park in front of what is expected to be another bumper crowd, Noel McNamara's charges are riding the crest of a wave.

However, no one is underestimating the scale of the challenge against a French team, who after winning last year's Six Nations went on to be crowned world champions.

Several players are involved again and they will be aiming to derail Ireland's potential Grand Slam decider in Wales next week.

That said, confidence is high in the Ireland camp and why wouldn't it be?

At the beginning of the tournament, McNamara said that he would be looking to build the depth ahead of June's World Cup, yet such has been the outstanding level of performance, it has been difficult to drop any of the players.

"I don't know if you need to temper it (excitement)," the head coach maintained.

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"The group are good. They have worked very hard over the last few weeks and have given themselves an opportunity through that.

"The lads have prepped well, had a good run-out against the senior team in Belfast.

"If you don't enjoy these kind of challenges, then they really shouldn't be involved in it."

Fresh from scoring five tries in two AIL games for Cork Con, Sean French deputises for the injured skipper David Hawkshaw.

Other than that, it's as you were as Ireland opt for continuity rather than experimentation.

Influential half-backs Craig Casey and Harry Byrne will once again be central to the game-plan, while there will be a big onus on French to seize his opportunity in the midfield alongside Liam Turner, who has enjoyed a fine campaign.

Despite some concerns about the size of this year's pack, as a unit they have been immense and they will need to be again as France will pack a serious punch up front, especially through their outstanding, powerful No 8 Jordan Joseph, who scored a try for Racing 92 in the Top 14 last weekend.

"Traditionally people would have felt that French teams don't necessarily travel as well away, but they have had some pretty compelling performances away from home in the U-20s Six Nations," McNamara warned.

"We are expecting a massive challenge.

"We are expecting the world champions to turn up. We know that if we are not at our best, it probably won't be good enough.

"Equally, we fully believe that if we are at our best, it will be."

Verdict: Ireland

Ireland U-20s - J Flannery; A Kernohan, L Turner, S French, J Wren; H Byrne, C Casey; J Wycherley, D Tierney-Martin, T Clarkson; C Ryan (capt), N Murray; M Moloney, S Penny, J Hodnett. Reps: J McKee, C Reid, R Lomas, R Baird, D McCann, C Foley, B Healy, R Russell.

France U-20s - A De Nardi; V Pinto, A Vincent (capt), S Delbouis, M Lebel; L Carbonel, Q Delord; J-P Gros, R Barka, A Burin; G Maravat, F Vanverberghe; P Boudehent, S Zegueur, J Joseph. Reps: L Zarantonello, E Eglaine, G Beria, A Warion, M Lemardelet, K Viallard, M Smaili, E Dumortier.

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