Ireland Under-20s looking for improved showing to pocket win over Junior Wallabies

Talented young centre Hugh Cooney will unfortunately miss the remainder of the Under-20 World Championship

Ireland U20 v Australia U20, Paarl Gimnasium, Thursday, 10.0am Irish time – Live on Virgin Media Two

Richie Murphy’s Ireland got some further unfortunate news in relation to hugely promising and influential centre Hugh Cooney, who received a three-match suspension – two if he undergoes what is euphemistically described as World Rugby’s ‘tackle school’ course – following his red card against England. He will miss the remainder of the tournament.

It comes after the match doctor adjudicated that the young centre had suffered a category one concussion which carries a mandatory 12-day stand down period. In those circumstances he is slated to miss the games against Australia and Fiji and therefore his suspension only starts from the time from which he is eligible to play and that means he will miss the final two match days in the crossover games.

In his absence Hugh Gavin switches to outside centre where he will join his Connacht academy team-mate John Devine in the midfield, renewing a partnership of old. James Nicholson comes in on the left wing. Paddy McCarthy switches to loosehead prop, Ronan Foxe makes his debut at tighthead, Charlie Irvine comes into the secondrow and Brian Gleeson is restored to number eight.

The weather forecast is for heavy rain on a Paarl Gimnasium surface that was already bog-like. Irish backs coach Mark Sexton said: “The pitch is heavy to say the least. I was running water [in the English match] and my calves were cramping. I felt sorry for the players. We like to play a certain brand of rugby, conditions will play a part, we don’t want to overplay. If there is space, we will take it, but we are conscious of those conditions.”


He smiled when asked about the origins of the ‘trick play,’ scrumhalf Fintan Gunne’s pinpoint crosskick for Ruadhán Quinn’s try. “There is a lot of knowledge in our coaches’ box. Richie and I would sit down and go through opposition footage and come up with certain plays.

“The original was [devised by] Joe Schmidt against South Africa. We played it slightly differently but [in essence] we had a bit of plagiarism from Joe Schmidt. Harlequins played a similar play against Sale in the Premiership this year.”

What will the team need to do better than they did in the 34-34 draw with England last weekend? “We need to get out of our end better. A couple of times we failed to get out and they punished us.

“They actually gave us two or three attempts and we failed each time. Our discipline definitely needs to be better. We gave away 12 penalties: it’s not us. We gave away a yellow card, we gave away a red card and ultimately those things can cost you. They are two things that we took away and need to get better at.”

Australian coach Nathan Grey has made 10 changes to the starting line from the side that beat Fiji 46-37 in their opening game of the tournament. Fullback Mason Gordon, centre David Vaihu, left wing Darby Lancaster, flanker Lachlan Hooper and secondrow Jhy Legg retain their positions as Grey opts for a strong team led by influential scrumhalf Teddy Wilson.

Grey said: “We certainly have a healthy respect for Ireland, they’ve been dominant in the Six Nations for the last couple of seasons. We’re very aware of the threats they pose – there’s a few of them. We’re also very conscious of how we want to play, and very comfortable with how we want to play and back ourselves in applying pressure to them, in our way.”

Stylistically Australia favour more of a kicking game than their historical creativity, boast a big pack with an excellent set piece and if the weather and pitch surface are as feared are unlikely to deviate.

Sexton explained that Murphy spoke to his players about growing up playing cup rugby all through their formative years, how it is part of their rugby DNA and how they should embrace that culture in what is a do-or-die game in terms of their tournament aspirations. They’ll be better for the game against England, but they’ll need to be smarter and more disciplined and if they are then they can get the result they covet.

IRELAND: H McErlean (Terenure); A Osborne (Naas), H Gavin (Galwegians), J Devine (Corinthians), J Nicholson (UCD); S Prendergast (Lansdowne), F Gunne (Terenure); P McCarthy (Dublin University), G McCarthy (UCD, capt), R Foxe (Old Belvedere); C Irvine (QUB), C O’Tighearnaigh (UCD); J McNabney (Ballymena), R Quinn (Old Crescent), B Gleeson (Garryowen).

Replacements: D Sheehan (UCC), G Morris (Lansdowne), F Barrett (Galwegians), E O’Connell (UL Bohemian), D Mangan (UCD), J Oliver (Garryowen), H West (Buccaneers), R Telfer (QUB).

AUSTRALIA: M Gordon; T Ryan, H O’Donnell, D Vaihu, D Lancaster; J Bowen, T Wilson (capt); J Barrett, M Craig, M de Lutiis; J Legg, D Maiava; L Hooper, N Slack-Smith, J Bryant.

Replacements: L Bowron, H Usher, N Bloomfield, T Macpherson, L Taiataina, K Thorn, H McLaughlin-Phillips, T Annan.

Referee: A Mabey (New Zealand).

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer