Ireland Under-20s to go ahead with Fiji game amid tragedies affecting squad

A minute’s silence will be held and players will wear black armbands after deaths of Greig Oliver in Cape Town and two St Michael’s students in Greece

Under-20 World Championship: Ireland v Fiji, Danie Craven stadium, Stellenbosch, Tuesday, 12.30 Irish time (Live Virgin Media Two)

The Ireland squad will wear black armbands in memory of St Michael’s College pupils Andrew O’Donnell and Max Wall who tragically died while on holiday in Ios over the weekend for today’s (Tuesday) final Under-20 World Championship pool match against Fiji. The IRFU petitioned World Rugby who agreed to the request.

On Monday afternoon the group received further devastating news that Greig Oliver, father of replacement scrumhalf Jack, had died following a paragliding collision in Cape Town. Greig Oliver is a former Scottish international scrumhalf, previously coached Garryowen and Munster A, was an assistant coach to the Irish 20s (2011-2014), and since 2011 was an elite player development officer in Munster.

The Irish players were consulted and indicated that they wanted to play the Fiji match. There will be a minute’s silence for Greig Oliver before all the matchday three games in the tournament.

There are six former Michael’s boys – Henry McErlean, James Nicholson, Sam Berman, Fintan Gunne, Conor O’Tighearnaigh and Dan Barron – in the extended squad and Irish head coach Richie Murphy spoke on behalf of the group. “It’s a really tough time. Obviously, we are massively devastated to hear of the passing of Max Wall and Andrew O’Donnell.


“We have a number of St Michael’s guys here in the squad, who know them well, and as a father of kids around that age and an Irishman I feel really devastated for them. We’d like to offer our condolences to the Wall and O’Donnell families.” Ireland team doctor Barry O’Flanagan has offered pastoral care in trying to help the boys come to terms with the dreadful news.

Murphy has made 10 changes to the team that beat Australia as Ireland chase the victory that would guarantee the Six Nations Grand Slam champions a place in the cup semi-finals. Harry West was due to play but he damaged a hamstring in training on Sunday and is a late withdrawal.

First-choice fullback McErlean returns to the starting team while Hugh Gavin is named among the replacements. Munster and Shannon wing Josh Costello, who was training with the Ireland Sevens in Dublin, will replace West in the squad. He is expected to arrive in Cape Town on Monday night.

Berman was on a train to Budapest on an Interrail holiday when he received a call that a flight had been booked for him to return to Dublin and on to South Africa. Eligible again next year, a status shared by Danny Sheahan, Evan O’Connell, Joe Hopes and Brian Gleeson in the starting pack, Berman will wear the 13 jersey against the Fijians in a midfield partnership with the industrious John Devine.

Dublin University’s Barron will make his debut after being named at openside flanker. Ireland are hopeful that Ruadhán Quinn, who has passed stages two and three of the concussion protocol after picking up a head injury against the Aussies might be available for a cup semi-final.

Fiji retains 12 of the side that lost 46-37 to Australia in their opening game and have 14 survivors from a 53-7 defeat to England played in torrential rain and on a waterlogged surface. Murphy is expecting more of the former in performance terms from the Pacific Island nation in dry conditions with a firm sod underfoot.

IRELAND: H McErlean (Terenure); J Nicholson (UCD), S Berman (Dublin University), J Devine (Corinthians), A Osborne (Naas); M Lynch (Dublin University), Ó Cawley (Naas); G Hadden (Clontarf), D Sheahan (UCC), F Barrett (Corinthians); Evan O’Connell (UL Bohemian), J Hopes (QUB); D Mangan (UCD, capt), Dan Barron (Dublin University), B Gleeson (Garryowen).

Replacements: To be confirmed

FIJI: P Waqalala; S Masiwini, W Nalaga, P Finau, M Navonovono; I Ravula P Baselala; M McGoon, J Nainoca, B Legge; M Vocevoce, N May; T Nakalevu, M Murray (capt), J Saumaisue.

Replacements: J Kina, M Toga, L Vuluma, S Tokitani, S Nalasi, Z Kama, F Ralogaivau, N Saukuru.

Referee: M Ferreira (South Africa).

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer