Ireland aiming to take a giant step towards World U20 semi-final
Coach McNamara makes two enforced changes for the clash with Australia
Ireland U-20 players celebrate the victory over England in Santa Fe, Argentina. Photograph: Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images
Ireland Under-20 v Australia U20, Santa Fe (2.30pm, Irish time, live on Eir Sport)
Ireland head coach Noel McNamara has made two enforced changes to the team that beat England 42-26 for Ireland’s seminal pool clash with Australia.
Trinity’s Rob Russell replaces Iwan Hughes at fullback while Ronan Watters, impressive when coming on as a replacement in the first half against England, comes in for Azur Allison (concussion) with the outstanding John Hodnett, reverting to the number eight position that he occupied with such distinction during the Six Nations Grand Slam triumph.
Hughes (finger) and Sean French (facial injury) have both been invalided out of the tournament, while their replacements, Ireland Under-19 international fullback Max O’Reilly and Leinster academy prospect Aaron O’Sullivan won’t have acclimatised sufficiently after their long haul flight to Argentina to sit on the bench.
Ireland’s injury profile over the remainder of the tournament, while not the ultimate arbiter of success and failure, will have a massive impact. There are half a dozen players that are simply irreplaceable especially when factoring in the handful of front-liners that couldn’t travel to Argentina.
McNamara has identified a number of issues arising from the performance against England and will be keen to eradicate them. Ireland were completely outplayed at the breakdown, particularly in the first half and it cost them turnovers and penalties. Australian captain Fraser McReight was exceptionally good in this facet of the game against Italy.
Doglegs, biting in and ball watching meant that Ireland’s defence especially in the wider channels was brittle; two of England’s tries were particularly soft. Game management is another area that will have been addressed to try and ensure that the team doesn’t perish by their own hand.
Those glitches are eminently fixable and should be weighed against the huge positives in the victory over England. The Irish scrum was noticeably effective against a bigger, heavier and more experienced England pack.
Hooker Dylan Tierney-Martin spoke in advance of the tournament how ‘eight scrum as one,’ but it would be churlish not to acknowledge the contribution of props Josh Wycherley and Thomas Clarkson as the chief buttresses and so too the work of forwards coach Ambrose Conboy.
Italy gave the Junior Wallabies a torrid time in the scrum, twice driving them off their own put-in and winning penalties at will. Ireland will have taken note and also appreciated that the Italians pilfered from the Australian lineout.
Destabilising the set-piece will go a long way to negating the Aussie threat, because when they do get ball, they possess an excellent running game, clever angles, nice variety to their passing and a willingness to offload. Elegant fullback Isaac Lucas and Sevens speedster Triston Reilly can cause problems for any defence, so too Mark Nawanqanitwaswe in a more direct way.
Ireland too will seek an improvement in their back play. Jonathan Wren, Stewart Moore and Jake Flannery demonstrated in flashes that they possess the footwork to create space. The Trojan work ethic of the Irish pack on both sides of the ball has been a central tenet of their success this season.
Tierney-Martin has that abrasive on-pitch personality that engages the opposition, while the rest of the front five are all willing ball carriers, but by far the most effective is Hodnett; his ability to bounce the first tackler and make metres where none appear feasible was a consistent theme in the Six Nations.
St Mary’s College flanker Watters was a revelation on his introduction for Allison in the England match and a performance of a similar ilk will be required again. David McCann also thrived, scoring two tries, but doing so much more to boot.
Australia beat Italy 36-12, scoring five tries in a bonus point win that flattered them slightly in the sense that the Italians spurned several gilt edged chances when the game was a contest before crossing twice in the last 10-minutes.
The Oceania Under-20 champions – they beat New Zealand 24-0 in the final – take huge pride in their defence. Ireland have found a will and a way all season and there’s no reason to doubt them here to secure a victory that would allow them take a huge step towards a semi-final place.
IRELAND U20: R Russell (Dublin University); A Kernohan (QUB), L Turner (Dublin University), S Moore (Malone), J Wren (Cork Constitution); J Flannery (Shannon), C Casey (Shannon); J Wycherley (Young Munster), D Tierney-Martin (Corinthians), T Clarkson (Dublin University); C Ryan (UCD, capt), R Baird (Dublin University); D McCann (Banbridge), R Watters (St Mary’s College), J Hodnett (UCC).
Replacements: J McKee (Old Belvedere), M Milne (UCD), C Ward (Clontarf), D Adamson (Clontarf), N Murray (Buccaneers), C Booth (Sale Sharks), T Ahern (Shannon), C Reilly (Buccaneers), B Healy (Garryowen), C Foley (St Mary’s College).