Ireland bid to build on Grand Slam heroics
Ireland U20s head coach Noel McNamara has named three uncapped players in his starting line-up for tonight’s World Rugby U20 Championship Pool B opener with England in Santa Fe, Argentina (7.30pm Irish time).
Having missed out on the team’s Grand Slam success in the spring, Stewart Moore and Azur Allison deputise for injured duo David Hawkshaw and Scott Penny. They are joined in the side by Ulster compatriot Iwan Hughes, whose selection at full-back sees Jake Flannery moving to half-back alongside Shannon team-mate Craig Casey.
Thanks to a World Rugby trial for the tournament, McNamara is able to include 28 players in his match day squad. Though he will still be restricted to eight replacements in any game, Declan Adamson, Charlie Ward, Thomas Ahern, and Ciaran Booth are all in line for debuts off the bench.
In the absence of Hawkshaw, Charlie Ryan has assumed the captaincy on a permanent basis. While he has big boots to fill, the former Blackrock College student is quick to play down the significance of the role.
“With this group, I’ve learned I don’t have to do too much as a captain. The lads lead themselves. There are so many leaders in the team like Craig [Casey] and Dylan [Tierney-Martin], the team looks after itself on that front,” said Ryan. “I let the lads do what they do and not interfere too much. It’s worked up until now, thankfully, and we’ll look to make it work in the tournament.”
In stark contrast to their previous meeting at Musgrave Park on February 1 – when they upset the odds against a much-fancied English side – there is now a level of expectancy on Ireland’s shoulders.
However, as Ryan explains, this has made little difference to their approach.
“Our main focus is ourselves. Not much is going to change. We’re going to focus on our game and make sure we get our game right. We’re confident that will get us on the right side of results.”
As he aims to lead the nation to a seventh consecutive final at this grade, England supremo Steve Bates has retained nine of the team that started February’s game in Cork. Whereas Joe Heyes is the only addition to the pack, their back-line has been significantly revamped. Northampton Saints pair Ollie Sleightholme and Fraser Dingwall are joined by a host of new faces, including Saracens fly-half Manu Vunipola, cousin to senior internationals Billy and Mako.
Skipper Dingwall is one of six players in the side to have featured in the 2018 decider, when they lost out to host nation France.
IRELAND: I Hughes; A Kernohan, L Turner, S Moore, J Wren; J Flannery, C Casey; J Wycherley, D Tierney-Martin, T Clarkson; C Ryan, R Baird; D McCann, J Hodnett, A Allison.
Replacements: M Milne, D Adamson, J McKee, C Ward, T Ahern, N Murray, R Watters, C Booth, C Reilly, C Foley, B Healy, S French, R Russell.
ENGLAND: T de Glanville; O Sleightholme, F Dingwall, C Redpath, T Seabrook; M Vunipola, O Fox; O Adkins, N Dolly, J Heyes; J Kpoku, A Coles; T Hill, A Hinkley, T Willis.
Replacements: A Barbeary, K Owen, A Petch, W Capon, J Kenny, R Capstick, R Tuima, J Basham, S Maunder, L James, C Doherty, A Reed, J Hodge.