Tuesday 12 December 2017

Provincial call-ups dent Irish hopes

IRELAND U-20 v England u-20

Dubarry Park, 7.45

MIKE Ruddock's first Six Nations campaign in charge of Ireland's U-20s has been stilted by the Magners League's expansion and once again, his side's hopes of a big scalp is hampered by the provinces' need for his players.

This time, Ulster's refixed clash with the Dragons means the former Wales coach goes into tonight's clash with Grand Slam chasing England without key men Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall and Craig Gilroy, who have been called up to start against the Dragons at Ravenhill.

It means a call-up for former St Michael's College star out-half Cathal Marsh, while Connacht's Tiernan O'Halloran comes in for Gilroy on the wing and JJ Hanrahan starts in the centre. Captain Niall Annett misses out through injury and is replaced by UCD's hooker David Doyle, with Jordi Murphy assuming the captaincy.

Had Jackson's last-ditch conversion not struck the post in Llanelli last weekend, Ireland would have come away with a win and could have a long shot at winning the title, but instead it's between England and France.

The English are always strong at this level and this year is no different. They were able to handle a powerful French side -- who destroyed Ireland last month -- and ran out 19-8 winners.

Owen Farrell -- son of Rugby League legend Andy -- starts at inside-centre having served much of his apprenticeship at out-half for the Saracens first team this season. He combined with Elliot Daly outside him to devastating effect in England's 56-8 win over Scotland last weekend.

Ruddock's charges have their work cut out in defence and, having been outmuscled by the French, face another physical challenge against a well-built English side packing plenty of punch. Playing the old rivals usually brings the best out of Ireland and they'll need something special this evening in Athlone.

Verdict: England

IRELAND U-20 (v England)-- M Sherlock; T O'Halloran, A Kelly, JJ Hanrahan, A Boyle; C Marsh, B McIlroy; J Tracy, D Doyle, M Moore, D Qualter; S Buckley, A Conneely, J Murphy. Reps: J Rael, T Furlong, C O'Flaherty, S Lecky, M Dolan, G Quinn McDonagh, C O'Shea.

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Irish Independent

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