With the training camps and warm-up games behind them, the serious business of the RBS Under-20 6 Nations Championship begins for Allen Clarke’s Ireland, sponsored by PricewaterhouseCoopers, on Friday as they welcome their Italian counterparts to ‘fortress’ Dubarry Park (kick-off 7.35pm).
RBS UNDER-20 6 NATIONS CHAMPIONSHIP: Friday, February 5
IRELAND U-20s v ITALY U-20s, Dubarry Park, 7.35pm (live RTE Two/RTE website)
Team News: The Ireland Under-20 team will be hoping to go one better than last year when they finished runners-up on points difference to France, who secured the title on the final weekend of the Championship with a win over Ireland’s Friday night opponents Italy.
In the back-line, centre Nevin Spence makes a return to the side from last season along with scrum half John Cooney.
Five forwards return from last season – prop Jack O’Connell, lock David O’Callaghan, Leinster duo Dominic Ryan and Rhys Ruddock in the back row and Brian Hayes in the replacements. Ruddock will captain this season’s side.
When Ireland and Italy met in Piacenza in last year’s Championship, there were only six points separating the sides by full-time. Tries from Thomas Sexton and Ronan O’Mahony helped the Irish to a 29-23 win.
Speaking to IrishRugby.ie about Friday’s game, which is sponsored by ESB International, new captain Rhys Ruddock said: “We’re not going to underestimate Italy. We went away to Italy last season, after beating France in the first game, and they were still within seven points of us late on – it was a very close match.
“We know they’re a very physical team. They’re definitely a hard team to put away, so we’re not going to underestimate them at all.”
Looking forward to leading the side out at Dubarry Park, he added: “Opposition teams always find it a bit of a shock coming down to play an international there, the crowd is very close to the pitch, it’s very loud and a lot of people can squeeze into the small space.
“We get a really good atmosphere there for the games. For us, it’s really become a fortress. The boys love playing there.”
Having gone so close to winning the Championship last year, Ruddock, a member of the Leinster Academy, is determined to get Ireland challenging for the title again.
“We were really happy with a lot of our performances last year, such as the England match. Losing to Scotland just put a bit of a dampener on it. Not to get the Grand Slam after working so hard in the first couple of games was disappointing.
“We want to reach our potential this year because we have a really strong squad, and it would be disappointing not to come away with some good results and show off our talent in the squad.
“For us, it’s about taking it one game at a time, but trying to win everyone is something we will be aiming for.
“The seven lads who were in the squad last year, we learnt a lot last season from the wins and the losses. Hopefully we can use our experience to push it through the rest of the squad and go one better this time around.”
The Ireland Under-20 squad have been supported by sponsors PricewaterhouseCoopers over the last four seasons, during which time the team secured a Grand Slam in 2007.
That support will again be evident this year with the consultancy firm making its debut this Friday as team sponsor across the new Ireland playing strip, which the Under-20s will be wearing in their first competitive international fixture.
Commenting on their support of the Irish U-20s, Ronan Murphy, Senior Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers, said: “We are delighted to continue our support for Irish rugby and for the Under-20s in particular.
“No matter what the challenges in sport or in business, having the right team, with the right talent, will achieve top class performance.
“At PwC, we are committed to helping clients tackle today’s tough business challenges by having the best people working together. We wish the Under-20 squad success in this year’s RBS U-20 6 Nations Championship.”
Meanwhile, the Italian side boasts two development players from Heineken Cup club Benetton Treviso in centre Tommaso Benvenuti and hooker Nicola Corbanese.
Benvenuti featured for Italy in last year’s Championship, kicking two conversions and three penalties in the 29-23 defeat to Ireland in Piacenza.
Winger Giovanbattista Venditti, out-half Tommaso Iannone, scrum half and captain Edoardo Gori, who lined out on the right wing last year, prop Carlo Fazzari and back rowers Filippo Ferrarini and Gabriele Cicchinelli are also back for another season at U-20 level.
Italy coach Andrea Cavinato said: “Our preparations have been good and the players are determined to play well in this first match. Ireland are tough opponents and we are going in with realistic expectations, without putting too much pressure on the players.
“We can play well against Ireland, we have a talented, determined squad of players who are improving all the time.”
IRELAND U-20: Andrew Conway (Blackrock College/Leinster); Darren Hudson (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Brendan Macken (Blackrock College/Leinster), Nevin Spence (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Simon Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster); James McKinney (Queen’s University/Ulster), John Cooney (UCD /Leinster); Bryan Cagney (UCC/Munster), Niall Annett (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Jack O’Connell (Lansdowne/Leinster), David O’Callaghan (UCC/Munster), Ben Marshall (UCD/Leinster), Rhys Ruddock (UCD/Leinster) (capt), Dominic Ryan (Lansdowne/Leinster), Patrick Butler (Shannon/Munster).
Replacements: David Doyle (UCD/Leinster), Stewart Maguire (Old Belvedere/ Leinster), Brian Hayes (Cork Constitution/Munster), Robin O’Sullivan (Bective Rangers/Leinster), Michael Heaney (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Brian Kingston (Blackrock/Leinster), Eoin Griffin (Corinthians/Connacht).
ITALY U-20: Ruggero Trevisan (Orved San Donà); Giovanbattista Venditti (Plusvalore Gran Parma), Tommaso Benvenuti (Benetton Treviso), Sebastian Rodwell (Giunti Firenze 1931), Giovanni Alberghini (Plusvalore Gran Parma); Tommaso Iannone (Banca Monte Parma), Edoardo Gori (Consiag I Cavalieri Prato) (capt); Carlo Fazzari (Plusvalore Gran Parma), Nicola Corbanese (Benetton Treviso), Francesco Pepoli (Vibu Noceto), Enrico Targa (Petrarca Padova), Lorenzo Santelli (Plusvalore Gran Parma), Nicola Belardo (Partenope Napoli), Filippo Ferrarini (Vibu Noceto), Gabriele Cicchinelli (Futura Park Rugby Roma).
Replacements: Andrea Manici (Plusvalore Gran Parma), Antonio Denti (MPS Viadana)/Piermaria Leso (Petrarca Padova), Filippo Cazzola (Livorno), Edoardo Lubian (Femi-CZ Rovigo), Alberto Chillon (Petrarca Padova)/Vittorio Callori-Di Vignale (Primavera), Francesco Menon (Giunti Firenze 1931), Michele Mortali (Plusvalore Gran Parma).
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Simon Harris (Wales), Chris Williams (Wales)
Television Match Official: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ireland U-20s to win: 1/33; Draw: 33/1; Italy U-20s to win: 10/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Allen Clarke (Ireland Under-20s) – “The first game, nobody knows what the quality of each cycle is at Under-20 level. Although you know what to expect from Italian sides in terms of the abrasiveness and physical of their game.
“I’m pleased with the player knowledge. It’s about taking some of the pressure off them as well, imparting some of the experience I would have along with (fellow coaches) Collie McEntee and Nigel Carolan, in blending the side together.
“Our players who don’t start will be as important as those who do start in ensuring the strength in depth that’s going to be required.
“Everyone’s equally important in terms of getting a good result. I’m pleased to say we’ve got a vibrant management team and a bunch of players who are well enthused – they’re ambitious but also realistic.
“Last season is what it was. This is a new cycle of young players, Under-20s for Irish rugby. Their immediate goal is to gel as a team so that we’re competitive in the Six Nations and we get good results. We’re at the winning end of the game now, that’s the reality of the situation we’re in.
“But, in the long term, they’ll also be benchmarking their own individual performances against those of their peer groups from other nations. And as a result of that, they’ll know the path that they’re on towards their ambitions of becoming a professional rugby player.
“We’re aware that this group has got a lot of potential. But we respect the challenges ahead and our focus at the moment is to get the Championship off to a good start with a win over Italy.”
Pre-Match Links –
Recent Meetings –
2009: RBS U-20 6 Nations: Italy U-20s 23 Ireland U-20s 29, Beltrametti Stadium, Piacenza