Monday 21 May 2018

Ireland looking to kick start the St Patrick's weekend celebrations on Friday night

Adam McBurney of Ireland scores a try during the World Rugby U-20 Championships Final match between Ireland and England at AJ Bell Stadium in Salford, England. Photo by Matt McNulty/Sportsfile
Adam McBurney of Ireland scores a try during the World Rugby U-20 Championships Final match between Ireland and England at AJ Bell Stadium in Salford, England. Photo by Matt McNulty/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The last time the Ireland U-20s played on English soil in the Six Nations, not many gave them a prayer, but a stunning second half comeback would prove to be the catalyst that propelled them to lofty new heights.

Now, two years on, a new crop of Irish youngster will be looking for something similar and more.

Last week's results means that Ireland could win the Championship on Friday night, if they beat England and Wales do them a favour at home to France.

While James Ryan's team didn't manage to win the Six Nations in 2016, the win in England gave the whole squad a renewed sense of confidence that would ultimately see them reach the Junior World Cup final for the first time, three months later.

Tommy O'Brien will be looking to inspire his side to a similar feat but against a much fancied English team, it will not be an easy task.

England's only slip up thus far came in Scotland, when they were stunned. From that end, given that Ireland won with a bonus point over the Scots last Friday, confidence will be high within the camp.

But at the same time, they won't be getting carried away because, like all of their previous performances, it was not without its faults.

When Ireland click in attack, they are lethal but question marks still hang over them defensively.

England will ruthlessly expose any decencies so it was no surprise to learn that a huge emphasis in training this week, has been put on tightening the defence.

19 tries conceded in four games is far too high for Noel McNamara's liking but the head coach won't be panicking as his players have showed that they are learning from game-to-game.

With a Championship on the line against England at the Ricoh Arena, Ireland won't need much motivation but by the same token, they will know that it is crucial to finish with a positive performance.

After Friday's clash, the squad will break up before a couple of mini camps en route to June's World Cup in France.

The coming months will feel like an awful long time if they don't put in the kind of display that they know they are fully capable of.

England are expected to recall some of their big guns for the showdown, and while Ireland will have to plan without their injured hooker Ronan Kelleher, they have plenty of players hitting form at the right time.

It is safe to say that at U-20 level, Ireland have never had two such quality tighthead props vying for the same position as Jack Aungier and Tom O'Toole.

Aungier was given the nod at the start of the tournament and hasn't disappointed but he has had O'Toole breathing down his neck every step of the way.

McNamara opted to rotate his props against Scotland and O'Toole certainly took his opportunity, which leaves his coach with a big call to make for England.

What was once a problem position for Ireland has suddenly become an area of strength. Both Aungier (Leinster) and O'Toole (Ulster) look to have bright futures ahead of them.

The loss of Caelan Doris to a hamstring injury has been softened by the emergence of Jack O'Sullivan into an outstanding No 8.

O'Brien and Angus Curtis are developing a good understanding in midfield and will be crucial to Ireland's hopes.

Michael Silvester really stepped up his performance against Scotland. The electric full-back is a constant threat with ball in hand but he will need to take his performance to another level – as will all of his team-mates.

There is an increasing realisation for players at this level that the gap to the senior intentional stage is not as big as it once was.

Ryan, Jacob Stockdale and Andrew Porter, and more recently Jordan Larmour have proved that is the case.

There are several players in the current squad who have the potential to follow suit but they must focus on the task at hand.

Ahead of what is a huge weekend for Irish rugby, the U-20s have an opportunity to get it off to an ideal start.

They are up against it, but don't back against them causing what would be a major upset.

Independent.ie's U-20s Six Nations coverage is in association with PwC

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