Ireland under-20s look to pack a bigger punch in attack to continue winning run at Musgrave Park

Coach Richie Murphy will be demanding an improvement on the error-strewn display against Italy

Six Nations Under-20 Championship: Ireland v Wales, Musgrave Park, Friday, 7.15 (Live on RTÉ 2)

Ireland head coach Richie Murphy has freshened up the pack with four changes and a positional switch from the Italian game suggesting a twin-track policy of looking to solidify the scrum and giving those that trained well the opportunity to translate that to the match environment.

There is a new front row, one of which is tighthead prop Patreece Bell, London-born but who grew up on the Isle of Man and was spotted by the IQ (Irish Qualified) system while on loan from the Sale Sharks at Sedgley Tigers.

He explained his Irish background.

“My grandma and grandad are both from Northern Ireland, County Down. I moved from the Isle of Man when I was 15 or 16 to a boarding school in England, Kirkham [Grammar School], so I could get a bit more rugby time because rugby is limited in the Isle of Man.


“There was a Sale [Sharks] development programme in the Isle of Man, and I got trials there. I went to England then got selected for the [Sale] academy. I am buzzing with the opportunity [to play against Wales]. I grew up watching Ireland with my grandad since I was a kid; I have always wanted to play for Ireland.”

How has he settled in?

“It’s been class. I’ve been welcomed well so I’ve enjoyed coming over here and experiencing a different type of environment.”

Ireland vs Wales preview

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Terenure College prop Ben Howard and hooker Henry Walker, another who came through the IQ portal, are promoted to the starting team, Joe Hopes moves into the second row to partner captain Evan O’Connell while Sean Edogbo’s brilliant match-winning cameo is rewarded with a start at blindside flanker.

The squad growth theme is continued among the replacements with Tom Brigg and Davy Colbert making the match day 23 for the first time.

Wales have made three changes to the team that lost 28-7 to England last time out. The backline remains intact with props Josh Morse and Sam Scott coming into the starting team with Nick Thomas promoted to partner Jonny Green in the second row. There are two positional switches, Osian Thomas moves to blindside flanker, Lucas de la Rua to number eight.

They are without influential Ospreys number eight Morgan Morse who is rested. Wales beat Scotland in the opening match and have the attacking capacity to hurt their hosts on turnover ball or in the wider channels. A repeat of Ireland’s 33 missed tackles against Italy can’t be countenanced, albeit the issue is less about system error and more to do with individual decisions and technique.

Wales head coach Richard Whiffin said of the threat Ireland pose: “They have an all-court game; they move the ball outstandingly well and threaten you with the ball as well as having a good kicking game.

“They also possess a good aerial threat and set piece-wise you can’t switch off. They will cause us problems all across the field but that is nothing that we aren’t ready for and we’re looking forward to going up against them.

“Italy got under Ireland’s skin a little bit and rattled them and really forced them into changing how they played.”

Ireland’s performance against Italy was flat and error-strewn and, ultimately, they were fortunate to escape with a win. Better game management, higher energy levels interspersed with precision when in possession and controlled aggression on the gain-line will go a long way to sorting out the root cause of the issues the last day.

They found a way to win against Italy, which highlights the character within the group. But a marked improvement will be required if they’re to maintain that unbeaten run, one which dates back to Donnybrook in 2018; their conquerors that day, Wales.

Ireland: B O’Connor (UCC), F Treacy (Galwegians), W de Klerk (UCD), H Gavin (Galwegians), H McLaughlin (Lansdowne); J Murphy (Clontarf), O Coffey (Blackrock); Ben Howard (Terenure College), H Walker (Queen’s University), P Bell (Sale Sharks); J Hopes (Queen’s University), E O’Connell (UL Bohemian); Sean Edogbo (UCC), Bryn Ward (Ballynahinch), Luke Murphy (Shannon). Replacements: D Sheahan (Cork Constitution), A Usanov (Clontarf), J Boyd (Queen’s University), B Corrigan (Old Wesley), T Brigg (Queen’s University), T Brophy (Naas), S Naughton (Galway Corinthians), D Colbert (Dublin University).

Wales: H Anderson; Harry Rees-Weldon, L Hennessey, Harri Ackerman (capt), W Price; H Wilde, I Davies; J Morse, H Thomas, S Scott; J Green, N Thomas; O Thomas, H Beddall, L de la Rua. Replacements: W Austin (Sale Sharks), J Morris, K Hire, O Conquer, W Plessis, R Lewis, H Ford, M Page.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer