IRFU set to quit Junior World Championship
The IRFU is poised to withdraw the Ireland U-20 team from the Junior World Championship from next year because of issues over player welfare and finance.
The shock development comes as Ireland bids to achieve their best finish in the fledgling competition, which has been won in each of its three years by New Zealand.
The Baby Blacks have again reached the semi-finals, while Ireland face South Africa tomorrow in Padua in the semi-finals of the mini-competition to decide fifth to eighth places.
Ireland's best finish was eighth two years ago in Japan -- a position they will equal even if they lose to the Baby Boks and to the losers of the other semi-final between Wales and Fiji.
The IRFU's decision to withdraw from next year's competition centres largely around concerns about player welfare.
Cost is also believed to have played a part in making the decision, although the IRB covers flights and hotel expenses for each participating country.
The IRB is likely to put pressure on the IRFU to reconsider its position but informed sources say the decision has already been made. It is also believed that Wales and Scotland may consider following Ireland's lead.
The IRFU did not respond to a query on the issue yesterday.
The timing of the competition and the number of games -- five in 17 days -- are believed to be the primary concerns.
Most of the Irish players are in provincial academies and should be coming off downtime and starting pre-season training when the Junior World Championship is held each year.
A number of other teams -- including the USA, Canada and Samoa -- who participated in the inaugural Junior World Championship pulled out in the past few years because of the cost factor.
However, Ireland's withdrawal would be the first from a leading rugby country.