Ireland Under-20s face long evening against creative England

Grand Slam-chasing visitors have been the outstanding side in this season’s tournament

Six Nations Under-20 preview: Ireland v England

Venue: Donnybrook

TV: Live on RTÉ 2, 6pm

The capacity of this Ireland side to make incremental improvements through the tournament, rectifying sub-standard aspects of performance, has underscored a strike-rate of three wins in four matches for Nigel Carolan’s team.


The ‘to-do’ list in coming off their most recent outing, a defeat to Wales, centres on their defence; too many tackles were missed and a repeat at Donnybrook against an outstanding England team chasing a Grand Slam, cannot be replicated or the consequences will be dire for the home side.

England coach Ian Vass has been able to chop and change his team throughout the tournament with little or no diminution in the quality of their performances. The visitors play a sparkling brand of rugby, choc-full of power and pace, and have the capacity to cut opponents to shreds.

In outhalf Max Malins, they posses a gifted playmaker, whose running threat and range of passing allows a talented three quarter line to express themselves, especially winger Joe Cokanasiga and Sam Aspland-Robinson.

The team is led their brilliant number eight Zach Mercer, who, along with secondrow Nick Isiekwe, has already established quite a reputation, while the pack also contains the 18-year-old twins, flankers Tom and Ben Curry.


Ireland are without Jack Kelly, who is nursing a shoulder injury once again, and he is replaced by Gavin Mullin, who has made a quicker than anticipated recovery from a hamstring injury. Shannon's John Foley wins a first cap at blindside flanker. A number of frontline players are missing but that's been the case for nearly every match to date.

An obvious starting point for Ireland is to be competitive up front, continue the progression they have made in the set-piece, and work hard at the breakdown. Oisin Dowling and Caelan Doris have been standout players throughout the tournament, so too Tadhg McElroy and Charlie Connolly, while others have matured in performance.

Behind the scrum, Jordan Larmour, has been his team's standout player, closely followed by Tommy O'Brien. The home supporters will be hoping that Ireland's backline gets a crack at the opposition off quick ball, with Bill Johnston demonstrating his undoubted talent.

England are strong favourites and deservedly so, especially on a fast Donnybrook pitch, although the expected wet weather won’t help either side. If Ireland shove the performance graph appreciably upward again, then they can be competitive but victory would appear to be England’s prerogative.

IRELAND: J Larmour (St Mary's); T O'Brien (UCD), G Mullin (UCD), C Frawley (UCD), C Nash (Young Munster); B Johnston (Garryowen), J Stewart (QUB); J Conway (UL Bohemian), T McElroy (Lansdowne), C Connolly (Dublin University); F Wycherley (Young Munster), O Dowling (Lansdowne); J Foley (Shannon), P Boyle (Lansdowne), C Doris (St Mary's). Replacements: R Kelleher (UCD), G McGrath (Lansdowne), M Burke (Corinthians), J Regan (UCD), G Coombes (Young Munster), J Stafford (Shannon), C Fitzgerald (Shannon), C Hogan (Dublin Univ).

ENGLAND: T Parton; J Cokanasiga, D Morris, W Butler, S Aspland-Robinson; M Malins, H Randall; O Dawe, H Walker, C Knight; J Nay, N Isiekwe; T Curry, B Curry, Z Mercer. Replacements: J Blamire, R Adams-Hale, J Morris, J Clegg, J Bayliss, A Mitchell, T Brophy Clews, M Wright.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer