Rising star Burke gets chance to show class

ANDREW BURKE gets a chance to prove his credentials as a potentially top-class out-half when he makes his first appearance for Ireland U-20 against France at Dubarry Park tonight (7.30pm).

Keen-eyed followers of underage rugby, who have been eyeing Burke’s progress in recent years, will be watching with interest as the Garryowen man links up with club-mate Conor Murray at half-back.

Burke, 19, has already been touted in some quarters as an eventual successor to Ronan O’Gara at Munster, having impressed hugely while a schoolboy at Crescent College Comprehensive.

Many who highlighted the potential of Keith Earls a few years back have also spoken in glowing terms of Burke, who has also represented Ireland Schools and U-19s.

Meanwhile, there was also be plenty of eyes on brothers Ciarán and Rhys Ruddock, sons of former Leinster and Wales coach Mike, who is now in charge at Worcester Warriors. The duo, who will line out at lock and blind side flanker, respectively, are qualified for Wales and Ireland — their mother, Bernie, is Irish — but Rhys has followed his elder sibling’s lead in opting to wear green.

Ciarán committed himself last year after appearing in the Junior World Cup in Wales, while Rhys skippered Wales at U11 and U16 level but has chosen to pack down alongside his brother.

“It’s just circumstances,” said dad Mike. “The Irish Exiles have a pretty aggressive policy of identifying and recruiting players based outside Ireland. They knew Ciarán was Irish-qualified and gave him the chance to play for them. He hadn’t made last year’s Wales U20 squad so he said yes.

“Now, there has been quite a lot of interest in Rhys from Ireland with one of the Irish provinces offering him a contract. Ireland invited Rhys to national training with Ciarán, and he enjoyed it so much he decided to make himself available for them.

“Ultimately, it was the boys’ decision. The major reason for them was having the chance to play international rugby alongside each other.

France’s U-20 setup has produced the likes of Stade Français centre Mathieu Bastaraud in recent years, and this year’s crop are led by Alexandre Lapandry, who has appeared regularly for Clermont Auvergne in the Top 14 this season. Eight other players have also appeared in France’s top-tier domestic competition in recent months — Stade’s pacy wing Djibril Camara is the one to watch — though fly-half Romain Lombard is still in the amateur ranks with Chalon-sur-Saône.

IRELAND: Ian Madigan (Blackrock College/Leinster), D Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster), I McKinley (UCD/Leinster), E Sheridan (Lansdowne/Leinster), M Keating (Clontarf/Leinster), A Burke (Garryowen/Munster), C Murray (Garryowen/Munster), J McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), T Sexton (Old Belvedere/Leinster), J O’Connell (Lansdowne/Leinster), C Ruddock (Neath/Exiles), M Flanagan (UCD/Leinster), R Ruddock (Milfield School/Exiles), D Ryan (Lansdowne/Leinster), P O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) (capt).

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