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Ireland U-20s Targeting ‘Best Performance Yet’ With Trophy On The Line

Ireland U-20s Targeting ‘Best Performance Yet’ With Trophy On The Line

The Ireland Under-20s are unbeaten in this season's U-20 Six Nations, heading into their final round match against Scotland in Cork ©INPHO/James Crombie

The hopes of the Ireland Under-20 Men (sponsored by PwC) retaining the U-20 Six Nations title rest on the outcome of tonight’s final round clash with Scotland, as well as England’s visit to Pau to play France.

Richie Murphy’s side are just one point behind leaders England, as they head into a mouth-watering Friday night finale with a third successive U-20 Six Nations crown up for grabs.

Luke Murphy’s last-gasp converted try against England last week meant Ireland left Bath with three hard-earned points, which gives them a chance to lift the trophy on home soil when they host bottom side Scotland at Virgin Media Park (kick-off 7pm – live on Virgin Media Two).

The Ireland Under-20s know they need a closing victory, preferably with all five points on offer, whilst also hoping that France can do them a favour by beating England in the later game which kicks off at 8pm.

Speaking about the squad’s approach to the final round and how they must stay focused on their own job against Scotland, Ireland U-20 backs coach Ian Keatley said: “We can’t control what England and France are doing, so we just need to concentrate on ourselves.

“We’ve kind of gradually got better through the tournament and we’re just trying to get our best performance yet against a dogged Scottish side.

“Scotland haven’t won a match yet but they’ve been quite competitive. We’ve got to win the match first and then see what we can do to put points on the board because it might come down to that.”

Resilience has been a key theme within Irish Rugby over the last number of years. This U-20 group showed this in spades last week, as despite knowing that their Grand Slam dreams were dashed, they fought right until the end to stay in title contention.

Captain Evan O’Connell and his team-mates were able to draw from the experience they had in their warm-up window. Trailing a Leinster Development selection by 21 points at one stage, they battled back to share the spoils in a 28-all draw at Energia Park.

Knowing that they could do that certainly helped them when the chips were down against the table toppers, with Keatley admitting: “At the time we felt that we got out of jail (to get the draw last week). Great resilience from the lads. We played Leinster earlier on and we came back.

“That was the messaging – we’ve done this before, believe, be brave and they did that. It was great to get the draw but when you review it, I think we had six or seven clean line breaks and we only finished half of them, so there were so many opportunities left out there.

“We could have easily lost it but probably should have won it. That’s the way it is, we’re still in the competition, we’ve got a chance to win the Championship and if things go our way, a little out of our hands, just make sure we put in a good performance against Scotland.”

Head coach Murphy has made two personnel changes and one positional switch for tonight’s encounter on Leeside, with all of the alterations again up front.

Ulster Academy hooker Henry Walker, who has scored a try in both of Ireland’s last two games, swaps with Danny Sheahan who reverts to the bench. Joe Hopes reverts to the second row, so Cork native Sean Edogbo returns at blindside flanker.

The starting back-line has been unchanged throughout the tournament. There is a new face among the replacements with Ulster’s James McKillop set to make his Ireland U-20 debut. The Queen’s University back rower has impressed during his time in camp.

“James has come in, he’s back from injury, and impressed. His ability to take in the information, the lineouts and set plays, has really impressed us. He has trained really well,” explained Keatley.

“We got him to train as the English number seven last week, (Henry) Pollock. Put a headband on him, targeted him, and he did a really good job. We don’t only look at matches, but how you show up to training every day. He has done a good job there.”

The home support in Cork for their previous two matches, wins over Italy (23-22) and Wales (43-8), was a huge boost for all involved. The players are excited to perform in front of another sell-out crowd of over 8,000.

“How good is Virgin Media Park and how good is it for these guys to play in it? Even Bath last weekend, it was some experience for these players,” added the 36-year-old former Ireland international.

“It will be nice to finish off the campaign in Virgin Media Park in front of the Cork crowd, who always make it a special occasion for these lads.

“Singing the anthem, all their families will be down. The fire when they come on and the crowd really get behind it. It’s a brilliant little taste of what they can expect if they become professionals.”