10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations match in February, while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
To say that Ireland are the surprise package of this year's tournament would be putting things mildly indeed. But after Pool wins over Tonga, Argentina and then France they caused the shock of the competition when they defeated second seeds Australia last Wednesday to qualify for this afternoon's final. And it wasn't so much that Ireland beat Australia that caused the surprise. It was more the manner of the performace that made people sit up and take notice.
This Ireland U21 didn't simply defeat the Aussies. They destroyed them.
They beat them up front. They beat them out wide. They beat them in the air and they beat them on the ground. They out-scored them three tries to one, scoring two crackers on the way and long before the final whistle was sounded, the passport to the final was stamped and stored.
Now, this afternoon they face an even greater challenge against the Baby Blacks. This New Zealand side is led by Ben Atiga who has already debuted for the All Blacks and he is surrounded by an array of players who have cut their teeth in this season's Super 12.
Forgetting about the mis-match with Russia they have looked very close to awesome in the run to this final with wins over grand slam champions, England and South Africa (twice).
The Kiwis will start this afternoon as warm favourites to retain their title. But then again, Australia were favourites, so too were France. One group this Irish Under 21 squad has no respect for is Bookmakers and that's what makes them such a dangerous opponent for the New Zealanders this afternoon. That, and the great self-belief they have in themselves.
That self-belief comes from within, according to the management. The players set their own targets, re-set them when appropriate and the players carried out each game-plan to perfection.
However, coach Mark McDermott and his team, assistant Pat Murray and team manager David Haslett deserve enormous credit for the way they have prepared this side. So too, video analysist George Murray for dishing up the vital video information.
McDermott and Co. have kept this squad fresh and on the boil this past three weeks and they have armed the squad with the crucial information on the opposition.
Yes, the Baby Blacks will start this match at odds-on. And yes they deserve to. And if they are allowed slip into their patterns then they should confirm their status as favourites.
And no doubt, the New Zealand management have looked at the videos of Ireland's matches and imparted their opinions to their squad and come up with their game-plan. But there's one thing that the videos won't - can't - show. Something that cannot be legislated for. Down Munster-way, they term it the X-factor. And this U21 side has that in spades.
There is another danger the Baby Bs face and that is complacency.
No matter how they talk, they may not have the same regard for this Ireland side, the same sense of fear of losing that they would have if they were facing Australia or to a lesser extent, South Africa. They may not have the same respect for a northern hemisphere side. They may not actually believe that Ireland, a northern hemisphere side could in fact beat them.
And that could be their Achilles Heel.
If they go out in anything remotely like the wrong frame of mind, the words of Irish team manager, David Haslett will come back to haunt them.
" Anyone Who'd Write Off Ireland Would Do So At Their Peril."
It's shaping up to be a fascinating contest. Less a contrast in styles perhaps because Ireland have shown that they can play it every which way. And no matter what transpires between 4.15pm and around quarter to six today in Glasgow's Hughenden, this Ireland Under 21 squad has given everyone who supports Irish rugby memories that will last forever.
15 - Andrew Finn (Dolphin) 14 - Richard Lane (UCC) 13 - John Hearty (Blackrock College) 12 - Glen Telford (Dungannon) 11 - Paul McKenzie (Loughborough Uni) 10 - Gareth Steenson (Queens University) 9 - Tomas O'Leary (Cork Constitution) 1 - John Wickham (Clontarf) 2 - Denis Fogarty (Cork Constitution) 3 - Declan Fitzpatrick (Belfast Harlequins) 4 - David Gannon (Blackrock College) capt 5 - Shane O'Connor (Cork Constitution) 6 - Brendan O'Connor (Cork Constitution) 7 - David O'Brien (Old Belvedere) 8 - Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University) Replacements: 16 - Conor Geoghegan (UCD), 17 - Keith Doyle (UCD), 18 - Neil McComb (Dundee HSFP), 19 - Oisin Hennessy (Dungannon), 20 - Robbie Shaw (Wasps), 21 - Michael Glancy (Loughborough University), 22 - Breiffne O'Donnell (UL Bohemians)
New Zealand. G Horton; a Koonwaiyou, B Atiga capt, L McAllister, R Wulf; S Donald, T Morland; B Franks, J Pareanga, I Afoa; C Clark, J Ryan; G Naoupu, J Poff, J Kaino.