Three debutants included in Ireland side for England opener
McNamara makes six changes to the team that beat arch rivals in the Six Nations
Noel McNamara: has had to juggle his resources due to injuries to several of the Ireland Under-20 squad that claimed the Six Nations. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Ireland Under-20 v England Under-20, CRAI Club, Santa Fe (7.30pm, Irish time, live on Eir Sport)
Ireland Under-20 head coach Noel McNamara has handed debuts to three players, fullback Iwan Hughes, centre Stewart Moore and number eight Azur Allison for their opening World Junior Championship match.
Bristol born, Ulster academy-based Hughes was an unused replacement when Ireland claimed a Six Nations Grand Slam title in their final match against Wales, while Moore and Allison were original squad selections ahead of the tournament but missed it through injury.
McNamara makes six changes to the team that beat England 35-27 at Musgrave Park in the opening game of the Six Nations campaign, injuries ruling out Conor Phillips, David Hawkshaw, Harry Byrne, Martin Moloney and Scott Penny, none of whom have travelled to Argentina. Ryan Baird wins a starting place alongside captain, Charlie Ryan.
There are a couple of positional switches too with Jake Flannery moving from fullback to outhalf where he plays his club rugby with Shannon while UCC student John Hodnett will line out at openside flanker to accommodate Allison at number eight. There is a change to the tournament rules, all 28 players tog out for a match and the respective coaches are permitted to use any eight from the 13 replacements.
England coach Steve Bates has chosen nine of the starting team beaten that night in Cork, including seven of the pack, the only alteration sees Leicester Tigers tighthead Joe Heyes promoted from the replacements. Flanker Ted Hill has been capped at senior level by Eddie Jones.
Wing Ollie Sleightholme and centre and captain, Fraser Dingwall remain in a backline that contains, Saracens outhalf Manu Vunipola, a cousin of England and Lions duo, Mako and Billy. England have contested the last six Under-20 World Championship finals, a record, winning three, including a victory over a James Ryan-led Ireland side in 2016.
They haven’t forgotten their defeat to Ireland earlier this season. Bates explained: “The key element is that we are playing the side that won the U-20 Six Nations so we know it is going to be a big challenge and we have got to be right at the top of our game.
“We have to be accurate, we have to be patient and understand that if we don’t play to the best of our ability then this will be a very tough game and even if we do, we realise it will still be tight.
“A big factor for us is going to be the experience of our pack, a lot have played in the Premiership already; they have played a lot at U20 level and also in this tournament so they are battle-hardened.”
There are a number of character traits that this young Irish side have displayed this season, composure, self-belief and a willingness to stay faithful to their attacking patterns.
They are missing some key players from those triumphs and will have to reach even higher performance levels if they are to double up in victory terms over England.
England are a bigger, heavier team with more experience of top class rugby, just as they were four months ago and Ireland managed to temper that advantage, particularly in the scrum and at the breakdown.
Given any platform Ireland possess the quality to score tries but their defence – they conceded the fewest tries in the Six Nations– will have to be a little sharper and more aggressive.
The game in Cork came down to two or three moments and one suspects this one may too. Despite the injury profile and on the basis of all they have achieved this season, they might just manage to repeat that win.
Ireland U-20: I Hughes (Ballynahinch); A Kernohan (Ballymena), 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), J Hodnett (UCC), A Allison (Ballymena).
England U-20: T de Glanville (Bath); O Sleightholme (Northampton Saints), F Dingwall (Northampton Saints, capt), C Redpath (Sale Sharks), T Seabrook (Gloucester); M Vunipola (Saracens), O Fox (Bath); O Adkins (Gloucester), N Dolly (Sale Sharks), J Heyes (Leicester Tigers); J Kpoku (Saracens), A Coles (Northampton Saints); T Hill (Worcester Warriors), A Hinkley (Gloucester Rugby), T Willis (Wasps).