Thursday 14 December 2017

Front-row battle vital to hopes of success for U20s

Ireland U20 v Wales U20, Dubarry Park, tonight 7.05 (RTE 2)

The plan to scupper Wales could come down to Ireland's front row, where Ulster's Kyle McCall, Munster's Niall Scannell and Leinster's Peter Reilly (pictured) could struggle to keep the scrum steady.

It is an untried, untested unit that is short on experience and muscle at what is growing into a giant-sized area at this grade.

Ireland coach Mike Ruddock is able to call on seven players from last year's squad, led by Ulster out-half Paddy Jackson and half-back partner Kieran Marmion.

Locks Daniel Qualter and Iain Henderson, flanker Aaron Conneely, centre JJ Hanrahan and wing Sam Coghlan-Murray complete the seven with miles on the road at this level.

In truth, this does not look a vintage collection. There are too many areas of obvious weakness. There are also a number of players held in reserve that could finish the tournament as starters.

Scrum-half Luke McGrath and Ulster centre Chris Farrell are two such players, while Leinster 10 Cathal Marsh has unique skills that should be accommodated before long.

Wales have five players back from the side that clipped Ireland 38-24 in the Junior World Cup last June, including their captain Kirby Myhill at hooker.

This is a difficult one to call. Wales are a complete unknown. Sometimes it is more about the collective co-operation than individual quality. Ireland's valuable record in Athlone could just swing it their way.

Verdict: Ireland

Ireland: S Layden; B Daly, F Horan, JJ Hanrahan, S Coghlan-Murray; P Jackson (capt), K Marmion; K McCall, N Scannell, P Reilly, D Qualter, I Henderson, C Gilsenan, A Conneely, J Conan.

Wales: R Jones; I Evans, N Edwards, C Allen, L Morgan; S Davies, J Evans; R Evans, K Myhill (capt), W John, M Screech, R Hughes, E Jenkins, D Thomas, R Thomas.

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