Monday 18 December 2017

Ireland in complete disarray at shambolic U20 World Cup

Ireland U20 head coach Peter Malone. Pic: Sportsfile
Ireland U20 head coach Peter Malone. Pic: Sportsfile

The Ireland U20 World Cup campaign in Georgia could be filed under the headline 'anything that could go wrong has gone wrong'.

Head coach Nigel Carolan made the decision to move on with his career as an assistant to Kieran Keane at Connacht after the conclusion of the Six Nations.

Assistant Peter Malone stepped into the lead role midway through a pivotal season for young men making a play for professional contracts.

This was followed by the confirmation that Ireland would enter Pool B without their most experienced forward Cillian Gallagher, back from last year's breakthrough to their first World Cup final.

Worse again, they travelled without not just their first choice out-half, but also their second best in the most important position.

Munster's Bill Johnston and Ulster's Johnny McPhillips left a chasm in experience - both were involved last year - in the number 10 shirt.

Their most outstanding player in cut-and-thrust flyer Jordan Larmour failed to overcome injury.

The same misfortune befell arguably their next best back in Tommy O'Brien and Ulster's Robert Lyttle, who had PRO12 form under his belt.

As if this was not enough, they had to deal with the furore over the omission of Leinster hooker Tadgh McElroy, from Dundalk.

In a stunning late development, McElroy's head had been turned based around a move to Saracens.

The move abroad was triggered by the intention of Leinster to offer an academy position to Ronan Kelleher ahead of McElroy, with the former young enough to be available again to the U20s next season.

Connacht made a bid for McElroy's services, but the lure of the European champions was too strong.

Ireland's new coach Malone had to make a plan with what was a decimated squad, six of which were uncapped at this level.

By the time Ireland arrived at their third match in the pool, they had suffered a one-point defeat to Italy (22-21) and a four-point loss to Scotland (32-28).

Malone took the decision to put out the bulk of a second-string side, presumably to have his main men back for what would be the relegation play-off between the ninth and 12th-placed nations in the tournament.

This led to a 69-3 humiliation in which Ireland failed to mine one try, even though they had a two-man advantage for five minutes when the Baby Blacks had boys in the bin.

It has to be accepted that the absence of any control at half-back or willingness to move the ball during this period was a stain.

Ireland will play Samoa in Tblisi on Tuesday as their best World Cup last year looks like being followed by their worst.

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