The IRFU Under-20 Interprovincial Championship kicks off at Musgrave Park and Ravenhill tonight, with defending champions Connacht being hosted by Munster and Leinster making the trip north to face the Ulster youngsters.
2012/13 IRFU UNDER-20 INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Friday, September 7
ROUND 1 –
MUNSTER U-20s v CONNACHT U-20s, Musgrave Park, 7.30pm
ULSTER U-20s v LEINSTER U-20s, Ravenhill, 7pm
The Connacht Under-20s had a memorable clean sweep across the board last season, beating all three of their provincial counterparts to claim their first Grand Slam in ten years.
After two close victories (22-19 away to Ulster and 19-16 away to Leinster), the westerrners produced a stunning display, including a hat-trick of tries, to overcome Munster 32-18 at Dubarry Park.
The westerners’ crop of Under-20s have been put through their paces at the Sportsground for the last eight weeks and head coach Jimmy Duffy is looking forward to getting started this weekend.
“Everybody’s looking forward to getting the Interprovincial series started, it’s been a tough but productive couple of months of pre-season and the lads are ready to get stuck into the games now,” he said.
“We have three matches in three weeks so once they do start it’s full on. It’s like having three cup finals in three weeks but that’s what the guys strive for, to play at the highest intensity week in, week out.
“We played Munster in a friendly and they gave us a really hard workout, winning the game in the end, but that’s the best preparation for us as we now know where we are in terms of fitness and skills and we’re very happy with that.
“We have a couple of injuries but that is to be expected and there’s nothing that concerns us too much. We’re just looking forward to getting started at this stage.”
The Connacht team is coached by Galwegians lock Sean O’Brien this year, with head coach Duffy being joined by assistant coaches Keith Matthews and Martin Murphy and team manager Philip Coyle.
The opponents Munster, coached by Greig Oliver, have had a successful pre-season run with only one defeat in four games.
They beat Connacht 15-10 in a warm-up fixture recently, so another tight contest is expected. Notably, Cork senior hurler Darren Sweetnam gets a start for the hosts at full-back.
Meanwhile, the Ulster Under-20s will open their campaign with a difficult game against Leinster who have dominated rugby at this level over the past few years. The Ulster squad includes senior caps Stuart Olding (out-half) and Conor Joyce (back rower).
Speaking ahead of the first round clash at Ravenhill, the northerners’ head coach Terry McMaster said: “Both myself and (assistant coach) Allen Clarke have been delighted with how preparations have went and by the effort put in by all the players involved.
“It is in essence a 12-week programme and the boys have bought into what we are trying to achieve and have been totally committed from the outset. We are happy with the rugby aspects of our preparation and with the strength and conditioning work which has been undertaken.”
McMaster has no doubts about the difficulty of the task facing his team tonight, stating: “It will be a massive challenge for us as they are a quality side. Leinster are the leading province in age grade rugby and have been for some time.
“This provides us with the ultimate challenge. Allen and I have worked with the majority of their players over the past few years, Allen in his role as High Performance manager and myself in the role of national Under-18 coach, so we know what to expect.”
While he admits it would be nice to win the Interpro title, McMaster is adamant that the main priority of the coaching staff is to develop the players.
“Our target is to produce indigenous Ulster players of the future. Wins are a nice reward for the hard work that has gone in but our focus is on seeing how the players progress as a result of this process,” he added.
Admission for the Ulster U-20s’ Interpro opener is priced at £7 for adults and £4 for children, payable at the gate.
CONNACHT U-20s: Alex O’Meara (Irish Exiles); Conor Fitzgibbon (Buccaneers), Mark Roche (Lansdowne), Ryan Casey (Naas), Phil O’Neill (Newbridge); Darragh Leader (Galwegians), Barry Digby (Buccaneers); Adam Boland (Lansdowne), Jason Connolly (Monivea), Jamie Dever (Corinthians), Sean O’Brien (Galwegians) (capt), Ultan Dillane (Corinthians), Aidan Connaughton (Buccaneers), Paul Maxwell (Buccaneers), James Connolly (IT Carlow).
Replacements: Niall Fitzgerald (Shannon), John Conroy (IT Carlow), Brian Teape (Buccaneers), Mick Mannion (IT Carlow), Luke Satchwell (Buccaneers), Cathal Murtagh (Newbridge), Conor Joyce (Westport), Ryan Sheridan (Buccaneers).
MUNSTER U-20s: Darren Sweetnam (Bandon Grammar); Rob Jermyn (Midleton), Harry McNulty (Dublin University), Rory Scannell (Dolphin), Adrian Enright (Abbeyfeale); Tom Kiersey (Waterpark), Brian Haugh (Young Munster); Niall Horan (Crescent Comp), Will Foley (Dolphin), Brian Scott (UCC); Sean McCarthy (Shannon), John Madigan (Charleville); Jack O’Donoghue (UL Bohemians), Darren Ryan (Young Munster), John Fitzgerald (PBC).
Replacements: Max Abbott (PBC), Cian O’Donnell (Cashel), Dave Hartnett (PBC), Jamie Kind (Dolphin), Dave O’Connell (UCC), Ben Nugent (UCC), Shane O’Leary (Young Munster), James McInerney (Garryowen).
ULSTER U-20s Squad – Backs (10): John Creighton, Matthew Keane, Niall Martin, Stuart Olding, Mark Best, Ryan Martin, David Busby, Ross Adair, Jordan Heatley, Rory Scholes.
Forwards (13): Norman Sinclair, Jake Caulfield, Jonny Craig, John Andrew, Chris Taylor, Sam McNabney, John Donnan, Grant Bartley, Matthew Rea, Stuart Hooks, Matthew Clarke, Conor Joyce, Ben Alexander.
LEINSTER U-20s: Philip O’Dwyer (CC Roscrea); Eoghan Quinn (Castleknock College), Tom Farrell (Castleknock College), Tom Daly (Lansdowne), Ryan Roopnarinesingh (Old Belvedere); Liam Burke (UCD), David Shanahan (Clontarf); Ed Byrne (UCD) (capt), Bryan Byrne (UCD), Dan O’Byrne (Clongowes Wood College), Jerry Sexton (St. Mary’s College RFC), Gavin Thornbury (Blackrock College), Dan Leavy (UCD), Josh van der Flier (UCD), Donagh Lawler (St. Michael’s College).
Replacements: Conor Kilcoyne (Blackrock College), Ken Murphy (Presentation College Bray), Jamie Lawless (St. Michael’s College), Connor Owende (Old Belvedere), Peadar Timmins (Clongowes Wood College), Jamie Glynn (UCD), Bobby Holland (St. Michael’s College), Rory Kavanagh (St. Michael’s College).