Sunday 19 August 2018

Five changes as Irish U-20 side try to avoid relegation dogfight

Harry Byrne starts at out-half. Photo: Sportsfile
Harry Byrne starts at out-half. Photo: Sportsfile

John Fallon

It is certainly not where Ireland would like to be at this juncture in the World U-20 Championship, battling it out for ninth place, but the situation will get a lot worse if they don't beat Scotland at Stade Aime Giral in Perpignan this afternoon.

Defeat here would leave Ireland facing a relegation dogfight against Georgia or Japan next Sunday morning and also ensure their lowest finish to this tournament since it began in 2008.

But coach Noel McNamara is hopeful that Ireland can get their first win of the championship after defeats to hosts France and South Africa - who have both reached the semi-finals - was followed by a demoralising 24-20 first defeat to Georgia at this level.

Scotland have also lost all three games in this tournament and their only win all season was a 24-17 win over England in Myreside in the Six Nations. England gained ample revenge in Beziers last week as they breezed into the semi-finals with a 35-10 win over the Scots, who have also lost to Italy and Argentina.

Ireland beat Scotland 30-25 in the Six Nations in Donnybrook, but an indication of the injuries which have impacted this squad is illustrated by the fact that only eight of that team will start in Perpignan this afternoon.

McNamara is hopeful his charges will bounce back after losses to France, South Africa and Georgia.

"These players are working very hard and have not been found wanting from that perspective. But we really need to start putting away a couple of games.

"Relegation is obviously something that we weren't countenancing on at the start of the tournament. It's really important that we regroup. It's certainly not where we wanted to be but it's where we are."

McNamara has re-jigged his team, making five changes. Michael Silvester returns at full-back, Harry Byrne swaps with Conor Dean at out-half and Joe Byrne starts at tighthead, while in the back-row Joe Dunleavy and Matthew Agnew return.

Ireland have finished ninth three times in this tournament, including last year when they failed to win a pool game, having reached the final for the first time the previous summer. Last year's position meant a poorer seeding and their pool is the only one of three groups to produce two semi-finalists.

"It has consequences. It had consequences for us this year and we ended up in a pool with France, South Africa and Georgia. But I don't know if that is always as important. The reality is those players turnover and you don't know how strong next year's crop is going to be," McNamara said.

"It does come in cycles. But the priority now is to win and finish as high as possible."

Ireland - M Silvester (Leinster); J Hume (Ulster), S O'Brien (Leinster), P Sylvester (Munster), T O'Brien (Leinster); H Byrne (Leinster), H O'Sullivan (Leinster); J Duggan (Leinster), D Barron (Munster), J Byrne (Leinster); M Dalton (Ulster), J Dunne (Leinster); J Dunleavy (Ulster), M Agnew (Ulster), C Doris (Leinster) (capt). Reps: D Sheehan (Leinster), B O'Connor (Munster), J Wojtkowicz (Connacht), C Ryan (Leinster), J Daly (Munster), J Stewart (Ulster), C Dean (Leinster), T Roche (Leinster).

Ireland v Scotland,

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