Ruddock looking for strong start

IRELAND’S U20 team will launch its Six Nations title defence against Italy in Parma tomorrow night (6pm) with captain Niall Annett one of five surviving players from last year’s championship winning side amongst the squad members.

Ireland U20 coach Mike Ruddock has named Ulster’s Annett at hooker in the team with Leinster pair Andrew Conway and Jordi Murphy returning from last season’s team on the wing and in the back row respectively, while their provincial team-mates David Doyle and Brendan Macken have been named among the replacements.

There are seven starters from Leinster, five from Ulster and three from Connacht with no Munster players featuring in the matchday squad.

“After winning the championship last season the stakes are set high for us this year. But this is a new season, a new squad and a clean slate,” Ruddock said. “Our focus for now is on kicking off the championship with a strong performance and while it is great to have a core of experienced players we will be looking for the entire squad to show what they can do.

“We have prepared well and have gelled as a team. The skill level, attitude and performances of the players and of the team as a whole have been very impressive. We hope to reproduce this for the tournament”

The U20 championship schedule mirrors that of Declan Kidney’s seniors with the game at Parma’s Stadio XXV Aprile followed by a home date with France next Friday at Dubarry Park, Athlone.

Ruddock’s squad will travel to Inverness on February 25 to meet Scotland and will stay on the road for the March 11 game with Wales at Llanelli’s Parc y Scarlets. The campaign concludes back in Athlone on March 18 against the England U20s.

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