Eric Elwood's Ireland side (sponsored by PricewaterhouseCoopers) begin their RBS Under-20 Six Nations title defence tonight by hosting Italy at Dubarry Park (kick-off 7.35pm), with this year's crop determined to put in a big performance.
2008 RBS UNDER-20 SIX NATIONS: Friday, February 1
IRELAND UNDER-20s v ITALY UNDER-20s, Dubarry Park, Athlone, 7.35pm (live RTE Two)
It will be a case of start as you mean to go for the Ireland Under-20s in Athlone as they look to follow in the footsteps of the 2007 players who so memorably claimed an historic Grand Slam.
None of last year's successful squad are back on board so this is a fresh squad, eager to make a mark of their own on the international stage.
There is a heavy reliance on Leinster players in the team that Elwood has selected for tonight's game. Ten of the starting fifteen hail from the eastern province, with four players from Lansdowne FC - winger David Kearney, centre Eamonn Sheridan, lock Eoin Sheriff and number 8 Patrick Mallon - notably making the line-up.
Leinster won their third straight IRFU Under-20 Interprovincial title this season with the majority of those players, including impressive out-half Martin Dufficy, starring throughout the campaign.
Dufficy, who kicked 14 points including a sumblime drop goal in Leinster's crucial win over Munster, should link well at half-back with Blackrock's David Moore, whose club-mate, Ireland's full-back Niall Morris, has scored four tries in his last three AIB League games.
Morris is one of ten players in the Irish U-20 squad that played at last year's IRB Under-19 World Championship in Belfast.
Ulster-based front rowers Paul Karayiannis and Stephen Douglas both came through the U-19 side, while Blackrock back rower Paul Ryan has a good pedigree as captain - he the U-19s' skipper and also led the Leinster U-20s to their Interpro success this season.
Another notable inclusion is centre Sheridan, the captain of the Ireland Under-18 Club side that lost on penalties to France in last season's FIRA-AER European final.
Also making the cut is 2007 Ulster Schools Player of the Year James Sandford, the captain of the Ireland Under-18 Schools team that won two of their three games at the 2007 Six Nations Festival in Glasgow. Ian Madigan and David Kearney, a younger brother of Leinster and Ireland's Rob Kearney, were also part of that side.
A lot of Elwood's squad have been gaining valuable experience in the AIB League this term, with Stephen Archer, Ian Nagle and Sean Scanlon all the fore in helping UCC to the top of the Division Two table.
And a special mention too for the nippy Kris Greene who has come through the IRFU Tallaght Project to represent his country at Under-18 and Under-19 levels.
Despite losing 51-15, last month's training match against Leinster 'A' was a big benefit to the Irish U-20s who should have enough quality in depth to dispose of the Italians.
IRELAND UNDER-20s: Niall Morris (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster); David Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster), Eoin O'Malley (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Eamonn Sheridan (Lansdowne/Leinster), Chris Cochrane (Queen's University/Ulster); Martin Dufficy (Dublin University/Leinster), David Moore (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster); Paul Karayiannis (Queen's University/Ulster), Stephen Douglas (Ballymena/Ulster), Ben Barclay (UCD/Leinster), David Nolan (Galwegians/Connacht), Eoin Sheriff (Lansdowne/Leinster), Kieran Essex (UL Bohemians/Munster), Paul Ryan (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster) (capt), Patrick Mallon (Lansdowne/Leinster).
Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright (Greystones/Leinster), Stephen Archer (UCC/Munster), James Sandford (Queen's University/Ulster), Ian Nagle (UCC/Munster), Kris Greene (St. Mary's College RFC/Leinster), Ian Madigan (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster), Sean Scanlon (UCC/Munster).
ITALY UNDER-20s: Giuseppe Sapuppo (Amatori Catania); Edoroado Rotella (AlmavivA UR Capitolina), Roberto Quartaroli (Easy Living L'Aquila), Alberto Chiesa (Consiag I Cavalieri Prato) (capt), Andrea Bacchetti (Femi CZ Rovigo); Riccardo Bocchino (AlmavivA UR Capitolina), Luca Martinelli (Antares Benevento); Andrea De Marchi (Mont de Marsan), Tommaso D'Apice (Antares Benevento), Massimiliano Ravalle (Overmach Cariparma), Filippo Giusti (Colleferro Rugby), Alberto Cazzola (Favero Montebelluna), Nicola Simion (Benetton Treviso), Simone Favaro (Benetton Treviso), Luca Petillo (Pol. SS Lazio 1927).
Replacements: Lorenzo Sebastiani (Easy Living L'Aquila), Marc Colia (Almaviva Capitolina), Andrea Redi (Carrera Petrarca Padova), Lorenzo Puliti (Arix Viadana), Matteo Nava (Giunti Firenze), Andrea Pratichetti (Cammi Calvisano), Giovanni Massaro (Antares Benevento).