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Sunday 22 April 2018

No pool party for U20s

English test baptism of fire for Ruddock’s shuffled deck

COACH Mike Ruddock has made 11 changes to the Ireland side that was humiliated 46-15 by Grand Slam winners England in the Six Nations back in April.

Back then, England were able to dominate the forward exchanges as Ireland struggled to cope without many of their first-choice players, who were largely bound to Magners League work.

Unfortunately, the Ireland pack of forwards is a lightweight unit without their natural tight-head Martin Moore. This will be a baptism of fire for his deputy, Clontarf’s Tadhg Furlong. The return of Connacht number eight Eoin McKeon is a boost. Leinster loose-head James Tracy is a potential professional and captain Niall Annett will have to lead by example.

The Irish backline is one to compare with anything in the competition.

Ulster’s Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall and Craig Gilroy are three quality operators with Leinster’s Brendan Macken, Andrew Boyle and, especially, Andrew Conway also capable of doing damage.

Verdict: ENGLAND

IRELAND U20: C Gilroy (Ulster); A Conway, B Macken (both Leinster), L Marshall (Ulster), A Boyle (Leinster); P Jackson (Ulster), K Marmion (Exiles); J Tracy (Leinster), N Annett (Ulster, capt), T Furlong, M Kearney (both Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), J Murphy (Leinster), D Gallagher (Ulster), E McKeon (Connacht).

ENGLAND U20: B Ransom; A Short, E Daly, R Mills, J Joseph; G Ford, C Cook; M Vunipola, M Haywood, H Thomas, J Launchbury, C Matthews, M Kvesic, M Everard, A Gray (capt).

THREE TO WATCH

PADDY JACKSON (Ulster)

The former Methodist College flyhalf has rightly been held up as the next natural out-half for Ulster to build a team around.

This nephew of ex-Blackrock College centre Michael Jackson has a compact build and is not shy of going in where it hurts most.

He has already pushed James McKinney, last season’s able out-half, down to the bench.

He has all the basic ingredients of a playmaker, an ice-cold head for tactical and place-kicking, an eye for a gap and a seriously sound distribution game.

ANDREW CONWAY (Leinster)

At the moment, the fleet-footed wing (pictured) does not have the footballing skills to make the transition to full-back where he spent much of his Age-Grade rugby.

Like the young Gordon D’Arcy, Conway’s first instinct is to counter out of defence rather than kick to safer parts of the pitch. His special gift is for changing direction at top gear without losing speed.

He is a try-poacher of the highest calibre, bagging five tries in five games at this competition last year.

CRAIG GILROY (Ulster)

The Dungannon flyer exploded onto the Irish stage by being the standout performer in the cross-provincial match that opened the Aviva stadium last summer.

He has since progressed to become a latent threat for Ulster in the Magners League as a natural runner who likes to come late onto the ball before accelerating away on a sustained burst. He can strike from distance.

Much will depend on Ireland’s capacity to deal with a huge England pack and win the sort of quality ball that Gilroy can turn into five pointers in the blink of an eye.

POOL FIXTURES

IRELAND v England, Stadio di Monigo, Treviso, Today, June 10 (5.10 Irish time).

IRELAND v South Africa, Stadio di Monigo, Treviso, Tuesday, June 14 (7.10).

IRELAND v Scotland, Stadio Mario Battaglini, Rovigo, Saturday, June 18 (7.10).

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