Injuries make Ireland U20s’ Italian job even harder
Team need bonus-point victory to have chance of making last four at World Championship
Ireland’s Ryan Baird who received a red card for a high tackle against Australia, has avoided a suspension. Photograph: Pablo Gasparini/Inpho
Ireland’s injury woes continued with two of their stand-out players in the Rugby World Junior Championship, centre Stewart Moore (shoulder) and number eight John Hodnett (knee), returning home following the defeat to Australia.
They are replaced by Luke Clohessy and David Ryan, a younger brother of Leinster star, James. Four players have been lost – Iwan Hughes and Sean French were ruled out of the tournament after the England game – from the squad that travelled to Argentina and nine in total from that which won a Six Nations Grand Slam.
The one positive to arise from their 45-17 defeat to Australia was that Ryan Baird, who received a red card for a high tackle during the game, didn’t incur a suspension. The disciplinary panel accepted video evidence that established the first contact was on the chest area of his opponent Will Harrison.
Ireland led 17-10 with a little over a quarter of the match to go against the Aussies but going a man down, and a combination of injuries, fatigue and lapses in concentration saw them ship 35 unanswered points. The upshot is that they will need a four-try, bonus-point win over Italy with a significant winning margin to give them an outside chance of making the semi-finals, for which the three pool winners and the best runner-up qualify.
World champions France (10 points, +35) meet hosts, Argentina (6 points, +22) in the final match in Pool A while South Africa (10 points, +52) take on New Zealand (10 points, +51) in the final match of Pool C. Ireland (5 points, -12) cannot overtake Australia (10 points, +52) as pool B winners because the Aussies won the head-to-head match, which is the first criterion for separating teams in the same pool.
So Noel McNamara’s Ireland squad will be going for the best runner-up spot where total points and then points difference are the initial arbiters in separating teams.
There are nine changes and a positional switch to the team that started against Australia. Colm Reilly replaces Craig Casey, Jake Flannery switches to fullback with Ben Healy coming in at outhalf, while Rob Russell starts on the wing in place of Jonathan Wren.
Cormac Foley, a scrumhalf during the campaign, reprises the role he fulfilled in his final year in St Gerard’s School as a centre, partnering new captain Liam Turner. There are two changes in the frontrow with John McKee and Michael Milne joining Josh Wycherley while Waterford native and debutant Thomas Ahern and Baird are named as locks.
The 6ft 7in Ahern impressed while playing for the Ireland Under-19 team in a two-match series against France in Corsica in April. Sale Sharks academy prospect Ciaran Booth comes in at openside flanker in place of Ronan Waters (concussion). Azur Allison, who picked up a head injury in the game against England, has passed the return-to-play protocols and returns at number eight.
There are four uncapped players among the replacements, Clohessy, Ryan, Aaron O’Sullivan and Max O’Reilly.
Italy played a great deal better than the final scoreline, 36-12, suggested against Australia and should have beaten England, going down 24-23 last time out. They have selected the biggest possible side underlining the intent to take the game to Ireland physically.
They possess a destructive scrum as they demonstrated against the Aussies, a very good lineout maul and some of their back play during the tournament to date has been excellent.
McNamara said: “Italy have been, and are a very good side and they showed that against England on Saturday. They have been consistently competitive at this tournament over the last number of years. The players are excited about the opportunity to get back out to play, and the focus is entirely on delivering a performance.”
This Ireland squad has demonstrated tremendous character and they will need that mental and physical toughness if they are to prevail; a victory would be a tremendous accomplishment in the circumstances.
IRELAND U-20: J Flannery (Shannon); A Kernohan (QUB), L Turner (Dublin University, capt), C Foley (St Mary’s College), R Russell (Dublin University); B Healy (Garryowen), C Reilly (Buccaneers); J Wycherley (Young Munster), J McKee (Old Belvedere), M Milne (UCD); T Ahern (Shannon), R Baird (Dublin University); D McCann (Banbridge), C Booth (Sale Sharks), A Allison (Ballymena).
Replacements: D Adamson (Clontarf), T Clarkson (Dublin University), C Ward (Clontarf), D Tierney-Martin (Corinthians), C Ryan (UCD), L Clohessy (Shannon), C Casey (Shannon), J Wren (Cork Constitution), D Ryan (UCD), A O’Sullivan (UCD), M O’Reilly (Dublin University).
ITALY U-20: A Capuozzo; J Trulla, F Mori, D Mazza, C Lai; P Garbisi, A Fusco; L Michelini, N Taddia, M Nocera; N Stoian, T Parolo; A Maurizi, D Ruggeri (capt), A Koffi.
Referee: R Raivhenge (South Africa)