Ireland head coach Noel McNamara has made two enforced changes to his starting line-up for today’s crunch World Rugby U20 Championship Pool B clash with Australia in Santa Fe, Argentina (2.30pm Irish time).
After he sustained a finger injury in Tuesday’s 42-26 win over England, Ulster full-back Iwan Hughes has been ruled out for the rest of the tournament. His place in the side is taken by Dublin University’s Rob Russell, while Ronan Watters deputises for Azur Allison in a reshuffled back row.
Whereas the Ulster No 8 will be back in contention once he completes the return-to-play protocols for his head injury, a facial issue has also brought Sean French’s tournament to an abrupt end. Though Aaron O’Sullivan and Max O’Reilly have been called up to the squad, they will not be involved on matchday two.
Having come through a high-scoring encounter with their arch rivals four days ago, McNamara is anticipating a much tighter affair with the junior Wallabies.
"I think they’ve only conceded two tries over the course of their last three games. Between Fiji, New Zealand and Italy,” McNamara said.
“I think that gives an indication of the challenge that they’re going to pose. Their captain Fraser McReight is exceptionally strong over the ball. There’s going to be a few areas where we’re really going to have to be on top of our game if we want to come out on the right side of the result.”
Australia had 24 points to spare (36-12) in an accomplished triumph over Italy and with England expected to bounce back against the Azzurri, the race is on for top spot in the pool. While promising Munster scrum-half Craig Casey stood out in Ireland’s opening day victory, the form of his Australian counterpart has also provoked interest on these shores.
A native of the Cooley Peninsula in Louth, Michael McDonald moved to Perth with his parents and twin Andrew at the age of 13. Following an impressive debut in Australia’s successful U20 Oceania Championship campaign, the former Dundalk underage star has since established himself as a key figure in Jason Gilmore’s set-up.
IRELAND: R Russell; A Kernohan, L Turner, S Moore, J Wren; J Flannery, C Casey; J Wycherley, D Tierney-Martin, T Clarkson; C Ryan, R Baird; D McCann, R Watters, J Hodnett.
Replacements: J McKee, M Milne, C Ward, D Adamson, N Murray, C Booth, T Ahern, C Reilly, B Healy, C Foley.
AUSTRALIA: I Lucas; T Reilly, S Tupou, N Lolesio, M Nawaqanitawase; W Harrison, M McDonald; A Bell, L Lonergan, J Nasser; M Wood, T Hosea; H Wilson, F McReight, W Harris.
Replacements: J Cotton, B Abra, D Breen, R Van Nek, E Ha’angana, P Tafa, N Frost, C Tizzano, H Robertson, B Donaldson, S Tui, K Oates, J Walton.