U-20s Preview: Ireland need fast start
The Ireland U-20s' Six Nations preparations were ramped up this year when the squad spent last week in a training camp at the plush surrounds of Fota Island.
The state-of-the-art facilities allowed the squad get through some invaluable work, while they also went up against Cork Con in what was described as a 'fiery' encounter.
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It all bodes well for what looks like a tough Six Nations campaign, and opening tasks don't come much more difficult than England. Ireland will at least have home comforts against England and France, as they make Irish Independent Park their new home venue in a move away from the capital.
Five players return from last season, which is reflective of the revolving door that is U-20s rugby.
It has, however, become an increasingly important stepping stone, and the task that this year's crop face is to make the considerable jump up to senior level in the same manner that the likes of Garry Ringrose, James Ryan, Jacob Stockdale, Andrew Porter and Jordan Larmour have done in recent years.
Looking at the back-line, there is plenty of explosive potential. Harry Byrne, younger brother of Ross, will be pulling the strings from out-half, and the former St Michael's student will be eager to show that he has learned from being last year's starting 10.
Alongside him, scrum-half Craig Casey is highly rated in Munster, as are Cork pair Sean French and Jonathan Wren. Former Dublin minor hurler David Hawkshaw will captain the team, and fresh from winning two Leinster Senior Cups with Belvedere, the inside-centre already has an impressive body of work behind him.
Up front, the Ireland pack are likely to be considerably smaller than England and France, but what they lack in size, they will make up for in fight.
Scott Penny will be a key man in the back-row if he's released often enough by Leinster. The 19-year-old has already shown in the PRO14 why he's an exciting prospect.
Lock Charlie Ryan is another with previous U-20s experience and having been named vice-captain along with Casey, his work at the set-piece will be important.
The build-up to the Six Nations has gone well for Ireland, but they will have to hit the ground running in Irish Independent Park this evening if they are to get their campaign off to a winning start against a dangerous-looking England team.