Saturday 18 January 2020

McNamara's weary warriors to stun Kiwis

Cormac Foley
Cormac Foley

Ireland coach Noel McNamara will have an empty feeling that Six Nations friends France, England and Wales have all achieved higher finishes than the Grand Slam champions at the U20 World Cup in Argentina.

The litany of lost men has just been too much to bare in what has put paid to the mockable notion that there is such a thing as 'the luck of the Irish'.

Undoubtedly, the way the first phase played out showed how England and Australia presented the Pool of Death with the physicality of Italy thrown in as a 'kicker'.

The Junior Wallabies have been better than ever in making their first final against the French later this evening (KO 7.30pm Irish time).

In contrast, the Junior All Blacks have already been left with their worst position in the competition with today's 7th-8th place play-off with Ireland at Club Old Resian, also in Rosario.

The strain on Ireland's resources is reflected in scrum-half Cormac Foley returning to the centre - his position at St Gerard's School - second row Ryan Baird once again filling in on the blindside and lock/blindside Brian Deeny manning the number eight shirt.

McNamara has made eight changes in total from the 30-23 loss to England, coming hot on the heels of their opening day 42-26 defeat of the same opponents, the competition-defining 45-17 defeat to Australia and the 38-14 win over Italy.


This has all taken place in the almost criminal space of 19 days which has left Ireland, and others, limping to the finishing line.

It is now too late in the day to change the way they play and it is the pressure defence that will have to be on-point to deal with the Kiwis. Out-of-position Ronan Watters will have to lead the charge from the openside and Liam Turner will do likewise from outside centre.

At least, there is the excitement at playing the Baby Blacks rather than a foe Ireland has met before this season.

"The biggest issue for us has been our skill execution," said New Zealand coach Craig Philpott.

"I really think that has been the let-down for the players.

"Our focus for this last game is, if we can nail our skill execution, we know we are a very good team and we want to show people that."

It could just come down to a case of whether Ireland have the energy levels to apply and maintain the line-speed and tackle technique that puts maximum pressure on that skill execution.

This valiant Irish group might just have one last kick in them.

Ireland: M O'Reilly; A Kernohan, L Turner, C Foley, R Russell; J Flannery, C Casey; J Wycherley, D Tierney-Martin, T Clarkson, C Ryan (capt), T Ahern, R Baird, R Watters, B Deeny.

New Zealand: C Forbes; E Nanai-Seturo, B Proctor, Q Tupaea, L Fainga'anuku; R Reihana, T Funaki; O Norris, S Klein, F Newell, C Grace, T Vaa'I, K Boshier (capt), J Mua, S Parker.

Verdict: Ireland

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