Opportunity knocks for Ireland under-20 fringe players

Injuries force coach Nigel Carolan’s hand for crunch game against France


Ireland v France

Donnybrook, Friday, 8.0pm, live on RTÉ 2

Injuries to Johnny McPhillips, Gavin Mullin and Cillian Gallagher, the continued absence of Jack Kelly (shoulder) and the fact that Fineen Wycherley is required by Munster for a Guinness Pro12 match have forced coach Nigel Carolan's hand in selections terms.


This is offset to a degree by the return of Ulster fullback Rob Lyttle and Munster outhalf Bill Johnston, who have overcome injury issues of their own. As Carolan noted during the week, it represents an opportunity for others in the squad to press their claims.

One of those is Tommy O’Brien, an excellent prospect, who impressed when the under-20s opposed the senior Ireland side in a recent training session in Monaghan.

O'Brien, who will be eligible for this age-grade again next year, admitted of the experience: "Training with the seniors was a bit of a step-up for everyone, and then with Joe Schmidt in the middle controlling it all, that was pretty cool. He demanded really high standards.

“Obviously he (Schmidt) was keeping an eye more on the senior lads, but he was just kind of instilling basic principles in us. I was defending out on the wing so he was letting me know if Simon Zebo was breaking on the outside of me, I’ve got to keep my eye on the outside of him. So that was pretty cool that he’d take me aside and give little tips.”

Same margin

Ireland have beaten Scotland and Italy, both coincidentally by the same margin, a point, but the difficulty levels rise sharply against a Thomas Lievremont coached French side that shows six changes from the side that hammered the Scots.

Included in their team are several well-known names, including 17-year-old outhalf Romain Ntamack, son of former French wing, Emile, number eight Alexandre Roumat, son of former secondrow Olivier, and scrumhalf Arthur Retiere, son of former French forwards' coach, Didier.

There has been a progression in quality terms from Ireland’s first match to the second in some aspects of their play, notably the set piece of scrum and lineout. It’s important that there is no diminution in standards.

Ireland struggled badly to defend the Italian rolling maul from lineouts and will need to be more cohesive and at the breakdown too. There’s no doubt that the team possesses some outstanding young backs but to give them free rein in attack the pack will need to step up a level or two.

IRELAND: R Lyttle (QUB); J Larmour (St Mary's College), T O'Brien (UCD), C Frawley (UCD), C Nash (Young Munster, capt); B Johnston (Garryowen), J Stewart (QUB); J Conway (UL Bohemian), T McElroy (Lansdowne), C Connolly (Dublin University); J Regan (UCD), O Dowling (Lansdowne); M Rea (QUB), P Boyle (Lansdowne), C Doris (St Mary's College). Replacements: R Kelleher (UCD), R Mulvihill (UCD), P Cooper (Belfast Harlequins), G Coombes (Young Munster), S Masterson (Connacht), J Lyons (Young Munster), C Fitzgerald (Shannon), A McHenry (Cork Constitution).

FRANCE: R Buros (Pau); F Fartass (Stade Francais), P-L Barassi (Lyon), T Dachary (Biarritz Olympique) W Iraguha (Massy Essonne); Romain Ntamack (Toulouse), A Retiere (La Rochelle); K Tougne (Perpignan), E Fourcade (Grenoble), T Laclayat (Oyonnax); F Verhaeghe (Toulouse, capt), M Capelli (Grenoble); D Cretin (Lyon), J Ruaud (Clermont Auvergne), A Roumat (Biarritz Olympique). Replacements: L Aouf (La Rochelle), F Dufour (Agen), G Henri Colombe (Racing 92), K Geraci (Grenoble), C Woki (Massy Essonne), B Couilloud (Lyon), A Fuertes (La Rochelle), T Millet (Stade Francais).

Referee: Tom Foley (England)

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer