Ireland Under-20 head coach Noel McNamara has made eight personnel changes and two positional switches to the team to play Italy in Wednesday’s final Pool B match at the World Rugby U-20 Championship in Santa Fe (kick-off 10.30am local time/2.30pm Irish time).
The crunch game will be shown on eir Sport 1 and streamed live via the World Rugby website in non-geo blocked regions. Sponsored by PwC, the Ireland U-20s will be looking to bounce back from their 45-17 defeat to Australia, who are guaranteed to top the pool, and give themselves a shot at reaching the semi-finals.
Even with a bonus point win by a big margin, McNamara’s youngsters, who have five points and a -12 points difference, need favourable results in the later games. Hosts Argentina sit on six points with Pool A leaders France on 10, a tally matched by both South Africa and New Zealand in Pool C. The latter two teams also boast points differentials of +52 and +51 respectively.
Dublin University and Leinster’s Liam Turner will captain Ireland for the first time, taking the reins from Charlie Ryan. The Grand Slam champions’ cruel run of luck with injuries has continued with John Hodnett (knee) and Stewart Moore (shoulder) both returning home early. Their squad places have been taken by the newly-arrived Luke Clohessy from Shannon and UCD’s David Ryan.
There are five players making their first starts for the Ireland U-20s – forwards John McKee, Michael Milne, Thomas Ahern and Ciaran Booth along with Connacht Academy scrum half Colm Reilly. Turner is joined in the centre by versatile back Cormac Foley, who made two starts at scrum half during the U-20 Six Nations.
A rejigged back-three includes Jake Flannery at full-back and Rob Russell, whose second successive start sees him shift to the left wing. Garryowen and Munster’s Ben Healy will don the number 10 jersey, having done so with aplomb against France and Wales earlier in the season.
Mainstay prop Josh Wycherley is joined by McKee and Milne in the front row, while athletic Munster Academy lock Ahern steps up for his U-20 debut alongside Ryan Baird who was cleared to play by an independent World Rugby disciplinary committee following his red card against Australia.
Ronan Watters, who was withdrawn with a head injury during the first half last Saturday, is following the return-to-play protocols, so IQ Rugby forward Booth slots in at openside flanker in a back row completed by David McCann and his Ulster Academy colleague Azur Allison, who is fit to play after missing the loss to the Junior Wallabies.
Injury replacements Clohessy, David Ryan, Aaron O’Sullivan and Max O’Reilly could win their first U-20 caps off the bench, while Clontarf and Leinster prop Charlie Ward has recovered from the hamstring injury which meant he was unable to line out as a replacement against the Australians.
Speaking ahead of the final round of the pool stages, McNamara said:
We are proud of the effort the players put in on Saturday against Australia given the circumstances, and the character they showed throughout the contest has to be commended. We’ve no doubt that they will dig deep again on Wednesday against the Italians.
“Looking ahead to tomorrow, Italy are a very good side and they showed that against England on Saturday (in a narrow 24-23 defeat). They have been consistently competitive at this tournament over the last number of years.
“The players are excited about the opportunity to get back out to play, and the focus is entirely on delivering a performance.”
IRELAND UNDER-20 Team & Replacements (v Italy Under-20s, 2019 World Rugby U-20 Championship – Pool B, Club de Rugby Atheneo Immaculada, Santa Fe, Argentina, Wednesday, June 12, kick-off 10.30am local time/2.30pm Irish time):
15. Jake Flannery (Shannon/Munster)
14. Angus Kernohan (Queen’s University/Ulster)
13. Liam Turner (Dublin University/Leinster) (capt)
12. Cormac Foley (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
11. Rob Russell (Dublin University/Leinster)
10. Ben Healy (Garryowen/Munster)
9. Colm Reilly (Buccaneers/Connacht)
1. Josh Wycherley (Young Munster/Munster)
2. John McKee (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
3. Michael Milne (UCD/Leinster)
4. Thomas Ahern (Shannon/Munster) *
5. Ryan Baird (Dublin University/Leinster)
6. David McCann (Banbridge/Ulster)
7. Ciaran Booth (Sale Sharks/IQ Rugby)
8. Azur Allison (Ballymena/Ulster)
16. Declan Adamson (Clontarf/Leinster)
17. Thomas Clarkson (Dublin University/Leinster)
18. Charlie Ward (Clontarf/Leinster)
19. Dylan Tierney-Martin (Corinthians/Connacht)
20. Charlie Ryan (UCD/Leinster)
21. Niall Murray (Buccaneers/Connacht)
22. Luke Clohessy (Shannon/Munster) *
24. Craig Casey (Shannon/Munster)
25. Jonathan Wren (Cork Constitution/Munster)
26. David Ryan (UCD/Leinster) *
27. Aaron O’Sullivan (UCD/Leinster) *
28. Max O’Reilly (Dublin University/Leinster) *
* Denotes uncapped player at this level
Ireland Under-20s – World Rugby U-20 Championship Results/Fixtures
Tuesday, June 4 – England 26 IRELAND 42, CRAI, Santa Fe
Saturday. June 8 – Australia 45 IRELAND 17, CRAI, Santa Fe
Wednesday, June 12 – Italy v IRELAND, CRAI, Santa Fe, 10.30am local time/2.30pm Irish time
Monday, June 17 – Racecourse Stadium, Rosario or Club Old Resian, Rosario
Saturday, June 22 – Racecourse Stadium, Rosario or Club Old Resian, Rosario