Saturday 16 December 2017

Boyle urges Ireland U-20s to hit the ground running in opener

Ireland U20 v Italy U20, Live, eir Sport 1, 12.30

Ireland U-20's Paul Boyle. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland U-20's Paul Boyle. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Ireland U-20s' preparations for the Junior World Cup have been far from ideal but nevertheless, the squad arrived in the back of beyond of Georgia late last week quietly confident ahead of their opening game against Italy this afternoon.

Last year's crop managed to beat New Zealand en route to the final, but it is perhaps unfair to expect a similar achievement from this squad who are without several key players as well as their head coach who began the whole process with them last year.

Nigel Carolan will take up a new role with Connacht next season but has been central to developing this country's young talents in recent years - just look at the progress Garry Ringrose, Joey Carbery, Jacob Stockdale and James Ryan have made in a short space of time.

Peter Malone, however, is a steady pair of hands and has long been Carolan's right-hand man. Former Ireland scrum-half and current Ulster Academy boss Kieran Campbell has taken charge of the back line in place of Carolan.

Injuries have not been kind to Malone in what will his first tournament in charge and he has also had to deal with the unwelcome headache of having to leave his hooker Tadgh McElroy at home, amidst fears he may switch his allegiance to England.

Ireland left for Georgia last Friday but given that their pool games are being held in Kutaisi, a city that is 231 kilometres from Tbilisi, it took them 27 hours, which included three different flights, to reach their final destination.

It all means that the last few weeks have been messy but opening against Italy gives Ireland an ideal chance to get off to a winning start before tougher tests against Scotland and the Baby Blacks.

The Italians are the perceived 'weak links' in Pool B. They lost all five of their Six Nations games but, that said, Ireland struggled against them and only managed to win by a single point.

Both teams will be familiar with each other, as will Scotland, while New Zealand will be gunning for revenge after Ireland stunned them last year. Watch out for their centre, Thomas Umaga-Jensen - nephew of All Black legend Tana.

Ireland started the Six Nations sluggishly and can ill-afford to do the same here. "We're not starting fresh again in the World Cup," captain Paul Boyle insisted.

"We have the Six Nations under our belt, we've had two warm-up games and so hopefully we'll go in and won't need to start building, we'll fly from the start."

Diarmuid Barron, who was parachuted into the squad in place of McElroy, starts at hooker while out-half Conor Dean also makes his debut at this level.

It won't be easy, but Ireland have enough quality in their side to get off to a winning start.

Verdict: Ireland

Ireland U-20s - J Kelly; C Hogan, G Mullin, C Frawley, C Nash; C Dean, J Stewart; J Conway, D Barron, C Connolly; F Wycherley, O Dowling; M Rea, P Boyle (capt), G Coombes. Reps: R Kelleher, G McGrath, P Cooper, J Regan, S Masterson, J Stafford, A Curtis, A Tynan.

Irish Independent

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