Unbeaten Ireland braced for visit of U-20 world champions France
Absence of injured captain Hawkshaw a huge loss for McNamara’s team
Charlie Ryan, the Ireland U-20 captain. “The first game [against England] the atmosphere was the best I have ever played in. It’s only going to get better for this France game.” Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho
France, world champions, Six Nations title holders, conquerors of Wales and Scotland, take on Noel McNamara’s Ireland, the only unbeaten team in this season’s tournament in what promises to be a cracking encounter.
The visitors have several players with French Top 14 experience including but not limited to prop Jean-Baptiste Gros, flanker Sacha Zegueur, World under-20 Player of the Year, number eight Jordan Joseph, outhalf Louis Carbonel, who kicked seven penalties and a conversion in the Junior World Championship final win over England, captain and centre Arthur Vincent and wing Matthis Lebel, all whom return from last year’s team.
Ireland received some bad news during the week when captain and inside centre David Hawkshaw suffered a knee injury in training that will keep him out of the remainder of the tournament. An outstanding footballer with a superb rugby brain, he is a huge loss to the team.
Sean French will wear the number 12 jersey and brings other qualities, including excellent current form, as evidenced in a brace of tries he scored for Cork Constitution last weekend.
It is the only change to the starting team while amongst the alterations on the bench is the inclusion of the hugely promising Ryan Baird, set to make his debut after recovering from injury and getting game time with Dublin University.
UCD secondrow Charlie Ryan takes over the captaincy and he’s relishing the chance to play in front of the Cork public, once again hoping that passionate support the team received in their victory over England will once again be in evidence on Friday night.
“The first game [against England] the atmosphere was the best I have ever played in. It’s only going to get better for this France game.
“There was a belief going into the England game but now it has been consolidated and it is even stronger. We don’t have to worry about France, we just have to concentrate on getting ourselves right. It’s a really great feeling knowing that, if you get yourself right, you will win.”
Ireland ran the French closer than any other opponent – they lost 26-24 – during last season U-20 World Cup in France but McNamara is aware of the threat that the French will pose.
“If you look at them over the last five years they have finished first, second, second, second and first in the Six Nations.
“It’s an enviable record. People think the French teams don’t travel well but they have had some pretty compelling performances away from home in the Six Nations. We are expecting a massive challenge; we are expecting the world champions to turn up.
“We know that if we are not at our best, it won’t be good enough. Equally, we fully believe that if we are at our best we will be [good enough]. On Friday night it’s going to be frantic, energy and pace from our boys and that’s where we are going to look to challenge them; see if they can live at that pace.”
IRELAND: J Flannery (Shannon); A Kernohan (QUB), L Turner (Dublin University), S French (Cork Constitution), J Wren (Cork Constitution); H Byrne (Lansdowne), C Casey (Shannon); J Wycherley (Young Munster), D Tierney-Martin (Corinthians), T Clarkson (Dublin University); C Ryan (UCD), N Murray (Buccaneers); M Moloney (Old Belvedere), S Penny (UCD), J Hodnett (UCC).
Replacements: J McKee (Old Belvedere), C Reid (Banbridge), R Lomas (Galwegians), R Baird (Dublin University), D McCann (Banbridge), C Foley (St Mary’s College), B Healy (Garryowen), R Russell (Dublin University).