Tuesday 15 October 2019

Opener is make or break

Unlucky Irish get ready for English power play

John Hodnett has moved to number eight for the clash against England
John Hodnett has moved to number eight for the clash against England

This already looks like make-or-break for Ireland on the first day of the U20 World Cup in Santa Fe, Argentina.

Coach Noel McNamara did not exactly enjoy 'the luck of the Irish' in his first tournament last year as a series of injuries left Ireland struggling to avoid qualifying for this year's edition.

Sadly, a similar misfortune has been visited upon McNamara as the core of his leadership group has been eaten away to leave Ireland under-manned.

Captain David Hawkshaw, blindside Martin Moloney, openside Scott Penny and out-half Harry Byrne were withdrawn even before the plane left Dublin airport.

This has been partially compensated for by the formidable reputations of some of those additions to the squad.

In fact, McNamara has given debuts to Ulster loose forward Azur Allison, centre Stewart Moore and full-back Iwan Hughes.

In addition, David McCann, who was an impressive factor in Ireland's U19 one-all series against France at Easter, starts at blindside with the explosive John Hodnett switched from seven to eight.

"We arrived into Santa Fe on Thursday and the players have settled in really well," said McNamara.

"They've focused on their recovery after the travel and are now looking forward to taking the field and getting things underway.


"We know from the Six Nations that England are a good side," he added.

"They have a lot of tradition in this tournament, but the primary focus is ourselves and what we control on the day."

Ireland's ability to control the tempo will have a lot to do with how the forwards stand up to England's power game, front row Josh Wycherley, Dylan Tierney-Martin and Tom Clarkson leading the resistance.

After that, the half-backs Craig Casey and Jake Flannery will be charged with putting Ireland on the right areas of the pitch.

The talented Flannery moves ahead of fellow Munster man Ben Healy on McNamara's out-half chart.

Flannery was used from full-back for the Six Nations campaign and moves into a more central role in what is a 'wait-and-see' decision.

Despite the fact Ireland completed a Grand Slam, they will go into their opener as heavy underdogs in light of the losses they have shipped.

In contrast, England coach Steve Bates is able to call on half-a-dozen players with experience from last year's World Cup final.

"A big factor for us is going to be the experience of our pack, a lot have played in the Premiership already," said Bates.

"They have played a lot at U20 level and also in this tournament, so they are battle hardened.

"We recognise up front will be an area where we can exert some pressure."

England have reached the last six finals and will be led by captain Fraser Dingwall in the centre.

Of course, Ireland have gone that far just once when James Ryan's crew were cleaved by England in 2016.

It is difficult to see how Ireland can overcome the erosion of leadership that has placed such a strain on their resources.

Ireland: I Hughes; A Kernohan (both Ulster), L Turner (Leinster), S Moore (Ulster), J Wren; J Flannery, C Casey, J Wycherley (all Munster), D Tierney-Martin (Connacht), T Clarkson, C Ryan (capt), R Baird (all Leinster), D McNann (Ulster), J Hodnett (Munster), A Allison (Ulster).

England: T de Glanville; O Sleightholme, F Dingwall (capt), C Redpath, T Seabrook; M Vunipola, O Fox; O adkins, N Dolly, J Heyes, J Kopku, A Coles, T Hill, A Hinkley, T Willis.

Verdict: England

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