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Ireland Under-20s Tackle England In Athlone

Ireland Under-20s Tackle England In Athlone

The Ireland Under-20s, sponsored by PwC, take on defending champions England in an Electric Ireland Six Nations encounter at Dubarry Park in Athlone on Friday night. The match will kick off at 7.35pm (live RTE Two).

This battle with the ‘old enemy’ always draws a bumper crowd to the compact Athlone venue. Its central location and ease of access from the M4 motorway ensures it is an easy reach from the broader midlands as well as from Dublin and Galway for one of sports great rivalries.

The Ireland Under-20s have a wonderful record at Dubarry Park over the past six seasons and a new-look squad will be greatly encouraged by last summer’s IRB Junior World Championship victory over England that helped secure a highest ever tournament finish of fifth.

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Team captain Luke McGrath, Stuart Olding and Josh van der Flier are the only survivors from that competition in South Africa.

Nevertheless, an inexperienced Ireland side were unlucky to lose 17-15 away to Wales in the opening round last Friday.

The Welsh had eight survivors from last season’s campaign so were the much more experienced outfit. Yet Ireland really put it up to their hosts with McGrath putting in a man-of-the-match display at scrum half.

Full-back Olding also shone as did centres Tom Daly and Rory Scannell, while out-half Steve Crosbie had some good moments. Lock John Donnan, hooker George McGuigan and number 8 Conor Joyce were prominent in an Irish pack that struggled on occasion in the set pieces.

Head coach Mike Ruddock admitted that Ireland ‘need to work on their scrummage and also cut down on the penalty count’, but he noted that ‘there were a lot of positives from continuity to tackling’.

Connacht and midlands sports followers will be hopeful that Buccaneers rising starlet Robbie Henshaw will start on his home ground against England.

The Athlone teenager was rested last week after a hectic season of over 20 matches to date. He would certainly add to the ‘electricity’ if selected and would likely start at full-back which could release the composed Olding to the out-half role.

Corinthians clubman David Panther did well in his brief stint as a second half replacement in Colwyn Bay and he will be challenging for a starting berth this week.

When the England Under-20s last played at Dubarry Park, Stuart Lancaster was their head coach and his graph continues on an upward curve now with the senior squad.

He has not been slow to tap into that U-20 squad and four of the players involved in 2011 played in England’s recent landmark victory over New Zealand – Owen Farrell, Joe Launchbury, Maku Vunipola and Jonathan Joseph are the quartet, the first three also starting in last Saturday’s Calcutta Cup victory over Scotland.

Tom Youngs and Danny Care are two others who come to mind who have featured at Under-20 level in Athlone in recent seasons as have Craig Gilroy, Simon Zebo, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray, Cian Healy, Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and Keith Earls, all eight of whom played in Ireland’s thrilling win over Wales at the weekend.

So, if you want to see the rugby stars of the future up close, then Dubarry Park is the place to be on next Friday night!

Tickets are now on sale at the Bounty for this highly attractive match. Family tickets are excellent value at €;30 for two adults and two children in the covered terrace.

Stand tickets cost €;20 each and are selling steadily already, as is the pre-match function where you can enjoy a three-course meal with wine and also have a reserved seat in the stand for only €;40 per person.

Group bookings welcome. Please contact Geraldine at 0861732711 for all pre-match function and/or match ticket enquiries/bookings.