Henshaw's rapid progress continues as he makes his Ireland Under-20s debut
Connachts Robbie Henshaw: debut tonight.
The Irish Under-20s have been a rejuvenated force in the last couple of years under Mike Ruddock, most notably last season when eight wins in 10 competitive matches earned them a second place finish in the Six Nations and a hugely creditable fifth place at the Junior World Cup in South Africa last June.
However, as is abundantly evident this season, under-age cycles have a huge turnover and having given 13 players their debuts at this level in the 17-15 defeat away to their Welsh counterparts last week, Ruddock hands out another three in making five changes to the starting line-up for tonight’s televised meeting with England U20s in Dubarry Park.
It is a measure of Robbie Henshaw’s rapid progress this season with Connacht that the local hero wins his first U20 cap at fullback on the back of playing for the Ireland Wolfhounds last month.
Winger David Panter, a replacement last week, features in a new look back three, while Lansdowne centre Mark Roche and Dolphin outhalf Rory Scannell also make their first appearances of the tournament.
The Ireland scrum has been severely depleted by injuries, hence the troubles they experienced in the set-piece last week, and last week’s replacement loosehead Peter Dooley is promoted to the starting frontrow.
The only team who beat Ireland at this level last season were England, who won a Grand Slam shoot-out 20-9 at home and then a World Cup pool meeting in South Africa by 20-15, although Ireland gained revenge by winning their play-off collision 27-12 in Cape Town before an 18-7 win over France secured fifth place.
But a further measure of the huge turnover in personnel this season is that Luke McGrath, a replacement for Kieron Marmion in Cape Town last June, is the only survivor from the Irish match-day 22 which beat England that day.
The outstanding UCD and Leinster scrumhalf was as influential as anyone as Ireland lived off scraps last week to outscore Wales by two tries to one, and the captain was man of the match.
England are also at something of a rebuilding stage in their U20 cycle, but are six-point favourites after making four changes from the team which beat Scotland 15-6 last week.
They also retain four of the starting line-up which confronted Ireland in Cape Town, namely the Exeter pair of outhalf Henry Slade and centre Sam Hill, Leeds lock Dominic Barrows and Harlequins number eight, Jack Clifford, as well as Wasps prop Nathan Morris, a replacement from that meeting, and hooker Max Crompton, who is once more on the bench.