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Dundon: We’re Trying To Build A Bit More Squad Depth

Dundon: We’re Trying To Build A Bit More Squad Depth

Ireland Under-20 assistant coach Aaron Dundon is pictured during the squad's training session at Virgin Media Park earlier today ©INPHO/Ben Brady

The Ireland Under-20s (sponsored by PwC) will aim to maintain their 100% winning record in the 2024 U-20 Six Nations when they welcome Wales to Virgin Media Park on Friday (kick-off 7.15pm – tickets are available here from Ticketmaster.ie).

Ireland were pushed all the way in their last game a fortnight ago, when a late Sean Edogbo try saw them edge out Italy 23-22. That came on the back of an impressive 37-31 bonus point win over France in Aix-en-Provence.

The Irish scrum came under sustained pressure from the Italians last time out, and head coach Richie Murphy has opted to freshen up his front row for the third round clash in Cork.

There are first starts for Terenure College’s Ben Howard (pictured below), Ulster Academy hooker Henry Walker, and IQ Rugby tighthead Patreece Bell, who has also been promoted from the bench to feature against the fourth-placed Welsh side.

The only other change sees Cobh native Edogbo start in the back row, as Joe Hopes switches to lock in place of Alan Spicer. The back-line remains unchanged, while Ulster’s Tom Brigg and Dublin University regular Davy Colbert are set to make their U-20 debuts off the bench.

Ireland U-20 assistant coach Aaron Dundon explained how important it is to give players who are performing well in training the chance to impress on the Six Nations stage.

“When we got back from the World Cup last year, one of things in debriefing was that we didn’t use our squad enough,” he said, speaking following the team announcement.

“So, we are trying to build a bit more depth in our squad, freshen it up and give a few (players) who are training well an opportunity.”

Scrum specialist Dundon acknowledged the issues that they experienced at scrum time in their last outing, saying: “We are still building our scrum. I thought it was okay against France, but we struggled a bit against the Italians.

“It’s just giving guys an opportunity and seeing what strengths they can bring. Wales did alright in the scrum against Scotland but struggled against England. We are expecting a tough battle.”

Another aspect of Ireland’s performance against Italy that was below par came on the defensive front. They missed 33 tackles in all, a statistic they will most definitely have to improve if they want to keep up their winning form.

Dundon believes it came down to a combination of things, explaining: “Definitely missing tackles, technique with a few of the players, a bit of work-rate, we weren’t working hard when we didn’t have the ball. At times not getting our space right.

“There were quite a few things but Willie Faloon, our defence coach, has been doing quite a bit of work on that since, trying to improve in that area. We’ll look to see a response in that area especially, on Friday night.”

Meanwhile, it was announced this afternoon that Murphy will become Ulster head coach on an interim basis after the current U-20 Six Nations campaign, following Dan McFarland’s immediate departure from the role.

Dundon expressed his delight for Murphy, but he confirmed that the Bray man is still very focused on the job at hand in these final three U-20 Six Nations matches against Wales, table toppers England, and Scotland.

Richie let us know today about him going up to Ulster as interim head coach. He told the players, all pretty delighted for Richie. All the players and staff wish him the best.

“You can see the last years when he’s been coaching, what he’s done with the players and the management, how they play for him.

“They get great enjoyment, they enjoy playing for him. He has a great relationship with all them so he’s going to be really good up in Ulster. We wish him all the best.

“One of the things Richie said, he’s not walking out on us in the Six Nations so that’s testament to the man he is. He’s going to be fully committed to the end of the Six Nations.”

Asked if this is the right time for the back-to-back Under-20 Grand Slam-winning coach to take a senior head coach position, the New Zealander, who was Ulster’s scrum coach between 2017 and 2019, replied: “Yeah, definitely. I think he has been ready for quite a while.

“He’s really enjoyed the 20s programme, he enjoys working with the young guys and making them better.

“He’s a fantastic coach, very ambitious and he wants to keep progressing his career. I look forward to following him now coaching Ulster.”