Ireland under-20s prepare for tough opener against Wales

Manchester City venue should help team prepare for toughest pool since 2008

Ireland coach Nigel Carolan takes training ahead of his side’s opening Pool A match against Wales. Photo: Inpho

Ireland coach Nigel Carolan takes training ahead of his side’s opening Pool A match against Wales. Photo: Inpho

 

If the Ireland Under-20 players didn’t appreciate that things had stepped up a notch or two after arriving in Manchester on Thursday for the World Under-20 Championship, the realisation will have been brought home to them when they trained at the multimillion-pound Manchester City Academy Stadium yesterday afternoon.

The 7,000-capacity ground, the centrepiece of an astonishing array of training facilities adjacent to Manchester City FC’s Etihad Stadium, will be the venue for all three pool matches.

The matches, opening today against Six Nations grand slam winners Wales followed by a joust with reigning world champions New Zealand on Saturday and then a tricky assignment with next year’s hosts Georgia, is probably as tough a pool as Ireland have encountered since this tournament started in 2008.

If sharing the same hotel as Wales for the last few days hadn’t cranked up things for this afternoon’s opener, then going through the elaborate security systems yesterday designed to protect the millionaire footballers, and on to the pristine pitches where they perfect their skills, will certainly up the ante a bit.

“It’s good to be at the ground, it’s an amazing facility,” said Ireland coach Nigel Carolan. “It gives the lads a taste of international rugby now and the stage that they are at. It’s an amazing setting.

“All of our focus over the last few weeks, since the Six Nations, knowing that we have Wales in the first game, has been our number one target. Our prep has been very good and hopefully the lads can deliver on that.”

Second tournament

Mike Ruddock

But it is that sort of tournament, 12 teams divided into three pools, and the margins can be incredibly tight.

Ireland go into this one boosted by three wins in a row in the Six Nations, the highlight undoubtedly the 26-20 win away to England in Newcastle. That spurred them on to defeat Italy 19-13 and Scotland 26-18, both of them at home.

Damage done

Wales have won the last three games at under-20 level against Ireland, with Ruddock’s men beating them 35-21 in New Zealand two years ago.

Captain James Ryan has shaken off a calf injury to start and there are two debutants in the starting side. Munster’s promising out-half Bill Johnston has recovered from the shoulder injury which has delayed his debut at this level and he will partner Stephen Kerins at half back.

Kerins is one of two Sligo men in the side, with Cillian Gallagher in the second row while a third, prop Conan O’Donnell, is out through injury. The only other debutant in the starting 15 will be St Mary’s flanker David Aspil.

Frontrow forwards Vincent O’Brien and Georgian native Vakh Abdaladaze will also make their U-20 debuts if they come off the bench.

“It’s very similar to Italy last year in terms of the weather conditions so far,” added Carolan. “It just adds to the whole occasion, but for most of these guys, four new caps hopefully, this is a new experience again so we’re really looking forward to it.”

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