Ireland U-20s braced for a World Championship baptism of fire
McNamara’s side face daunting task against reigning U-20 Six Nations champions
As assignments go, this one is a doozey. Noel McNamara’s Ireland take on the current Six Nations champions France in the host nation’s opening match of the U-20 World Championship at a venue where the architecture enhances the acoustics of what promises to be a colourful, loud, passionate and one-eyed advocacy of the home side.
The nature of the tournament – three pool winners and the best runner-up qualify for the elite semi-finals –ensures that there is minimal wiggle room for those who succumb to defeat. Ireland will play South Africa and Georgia later in the pool.
Ireland and France met in Bordeaux in the Six Nations with the French winning 34-24. France led 22-3 at half-time but Ireland fought back superbly to trail 27-24 in the last minute before conceding a converted try.
The French retain 11 players from that match, including Romain Ntamack, son of former French great, Emile, who was outstanding, scoring two of his side’s five tries and contributing a further seven points with the boot. Arthur Colville and Cameron Woki also caused the Irish team huge problems while prop Demba Bamba ran amok when sprung from the bench.
Daniel Brennan, a son of ex-Ireland international Trevor, assumed the captaincy of the French side during the tournament – Colville takes over for the World Championship – and excelled as a player and a leader. France won four of five matches losing to England (22-6) in a match that saw two of their players receive red cards in the same incident.
Trinity duo, hooker Dan Sheehan and prop Joe Byrne, will also win first caps if sprung from the bench. Ireland played some scintillating attacking rugby in the Six Nations and if they continue in that vein will score tries. The return of Caelan Doris following injury is a huge fillip and both he, and centre O’Brien, who led Ireland in the Six Nations are standout prospects.
McNamara feels Ireland can improve on their performance in Bordeaux.
“We were bitterly disappointed [after the game] against France [in the Six Nations]. At half-time we knew we hadn’t done ourselves justice.
“We came out in the second half and we showed what we can do. We are very clear that if we perform against France and get the result there, then the opportunities and the tournament open up. There is nothing past that for us at this point in time.
“Certainly that game in France we came away feeling that we let an opportunity slip. What a great chance to look to redress that. Wins away to France aren’t that regular for Irish teams. It is really exciting that we have that opportunity to write a bit of history.
“The last time France were Grand Slam champions, Ireland played them in the first game of the World Cup and turned them over. We are certainly excited about the challenge, the opportunity, and wouldn’t have it any other way.”
FRANCE Under-20: C Laporte; L Tauzin, P-L Barassi, A Securet, M Marty; R N’Tamack, A Colville; H Kolincar, M Lamothe, D Brennan; T Lavault, K Geraci; S Zegueur, C Woki, C Francoz. Replacements: G Marchand, JB Gros, D Bamba, P-H Azagoh, J Joseph, J Gimbert, L Carbonel, M Lebel.
IRELAND Under-20: M Silvester (Dublin University); T Roche (Lansdowne), T O’Brien (UCD), P Sylvester (UCC), D Hurley (Young Munster); H Byrne (UCD), H O’Sullivan (Clontarf); J French (UCC), D Barron (Garryowen), J Aungier (St Mary’s College); M Dalton (Malone), J Dunne (Dublin University); J Dunleavy (Malone), M Agnew (Ballymena), C Doris (St Mary’s College, capt). Replacements: D Sheehan (Dublin University), J Duggan (Naas), J Byrne (Dublin University), C Ryan (UCD), A Hall (Ballynahinch), J Stewart (QUB), C Dean (St Mary’s College), S O’Brien (Clontarf).
Referee: K Dickson (England)