Noel McNamara insists focus is on the U20 World Cup

Head coach Noel McNamara. Credit ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Ireland U20s coach Noel McNamara insists his full focus is on the upcoming Junior World Cup despite suggestions that he could be a possible candidate for a role with Munster under Johann van Graan.

There has been no contact with his native province, according to the Clare man, who all but laughed off the speculation. He already has plenty to ponder given he will be making for Argentina at the month’s end without a clutch of key players.

David Hawkshaw’s absence was signposted midway through the Six Nations when the Leinster inside-centre underwent surgery on an knee injury. Also missing out will be Harry Byrne (hip), Conor Phillips (ACL) and Scott Penny (shoulder).

Byrne was starting out-half on the Ireland side that claimed a Grand Slam during the spring before injury struck halfway through and Penny, his fellow Leinster man, was a massive presence in the back row. Munster’s Phillips started the first two games on the wing.

“Listen, that’s part of sport unfortunately,” said McNamara. “The reality is that part of this process is so that guys can go on and contribute to provincial and international rugby and, in fairness to Scott and Harry, they have done that.

Obviously, the initial reaction is that it is disappointing for them because it is an opportunity on a big stage to show what they can do.

"Then you look at the opportunity it will be for someone else.”

That much is reflected in the fact that McNamara has named six uncapped players in an initial squad of 33 which will be whittled down to 28 before departure for Santa Fe, via Amsterdam and Buenos Aires. They face England, Australia and Italy in their pool — a tough task.

No 8 Azur Allison and centre Stewart Moore were both named in the Six Nations squad in the hope that they would return from injury but failed to do so in time. Moore is already a member of the Ulster senior setup and is a good bet to replace Hawkshaw at 12 after a season destroyed by injuries issues and, in particular, a three-month stand-down for concussion.

Declan Adamson has put in a strong season at hooker with Clontarf in the AIL, while Adam La Grue comes into the reckoning on the back of a similarly eye-catching time on the wing with Terenure.

Shannon and Munster’s Thomas Ahern brings 6’8” and a rare athleticism for such a big man to the second row, while Leinster hooker Charlie Ward is making the same step up from the national U19s.

Ward is a product of the youths system, and has followed Sean O’Brien’s path from Tullow to the provincial system. Ireland have been losing an average of 6-8 players to injury at these World Cups so those cut will remain on standby.

“One of the things about the team throughout the course of this season and previous seasons is it’s a team,” said McNamara. “It has been about the collective and not one individual.

“Whilst we recognise the importance of certain players, there are players there who will step up. You mention someone of them there, there are some really consistent performers throughout the course of the Six Nations who are absolutely chomping at the bit and ready to go.”

FORWARDS:

Declan Adamson (Clontarf/Leinster), Thomas Ahern (Shannon/Munster), Azur Allison (Ballymena/Ulster), Ryan Baird (Dublin University/Leinster), Tom Clarkson (Dublin University/Leinster), Brian Deeny (Clontarf/Leinster), John Hodnett (UCC), David McCann (Banbridge/Ulster), John McKee (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Michael Milne (UCD/Leinster), Martin Moloney (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Niall Murray (Buccaneers/Connacht), Callum Reid (Banbridge/Ulster), Charlie Ryan (UCD/Leinster) Captain, Dylan Tierney-Martin (Corinthians/Connacht), Charlie Ward (Clontarf/Leinster), Ronan Watters (St.Mary’s College/Leinster), Josh Wycherley (Young Munster/Munster).

BACKS:

Craig Casey (Shannon/Munster, Vice-Captain), Jake Flannery (Shannon/Munster), Cormac Foley (St.Mary’s College/Leinster), Sean French (Cork Constitution/Munster), Ben Healy (Garryowen/Munster), Bruce Houston (Ballymena/Ulster), Iwan Hughes (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Angus Kernohan (Queen’s University/Ulster), Adam LaGrue (Terenure College/Leinster), Stewart Moore (Malone/Ulster), Colm Reilly (Buccaneers/Connacht), Rob Russell (Dublin University/Leinster), Liam Turner (Dublin University/Leinster), Jonathan Wren (Cork Constitution/Munster).

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