Irish boss Ruddock has Slam plan to deliver championship

Second-half drop goals from half-backs Luke McGrath and Paddy Jackson against Wales set the Ireland U20s on a Grand Slam journey back in February but the duo are not underestimating the final road block.

Mike Ruddock’s championship chasers take on an England side ranked second in the world tonight. England can capture the title by winning at Wasps’ Adams Park but McGrath and Jackson have other ideas.

“The lads have really worked hard together to make it a good year so far. England are a great side but, if we stick to our game plan, we have every reason to believe we can win,” McGrath said.

“They like to run the ball from near their own goal-line and really believe that they have a chance to score each time they have possession. It will be a big night for our defence but it is an area where we have done well.”

McGrath’s opposite number, Gloucester scrum-half Dan Robson, revealed the English challenge faltered this season when they were overawed by a partisan French crowd of more than 10,000 — but it was undoubtedly the setting for Ireland’s Grand Slam catalyst.

He said: “With about 15 minutes to go, we had a sin-binning and were under real pressure. I’ve been in situations with teams before, when you’re down to 14 men and lose the head, but we all kept our cool and focused on holding them out.

“That was when I knew this team was going on to bigger and better things.”

Ireland captain Jackson also highlights the France win as a standout moment but declares the will to go unbeaten through the campaign existed long before.

He said: “When we first met as a squad, and it was months before the championship started, we set the goal to win every game. We are now in a position to do that but know that we have to improve again against England.”

England coach Rob Hunter sprang a surprise this week by naming Anthony Watson at full-back, in place of the impressive Ben Ransom, but the back line still contains dangerous wingers Marland Yarde and Charlie Walker.

IRELAND (U20 v England): S Layden (Buccaneers & Connacht), C Finn (Buccaneers & Connacht), C Farrell (Dungannon & Ulster), JJ Hanrahan (UL Bohemians & Munster), F Horan (Lansdowne & Leinster), P Jackson (Dungannon & Ulster, capt), L McGrath (UCD & Leinster); D Merrey (Clontarf & Leinster), N Scannell (Dolphin & Munster), K McCall (Ballynahinch & Ulster), I Henderson (Queen’s & Ulster), D Qualter (Buccaneers & Connacht), C Gilsenan (UCD & Leinster), A Conneely (Corinthians & Connacht), J Conan (Old Belvedere & Leinster).

Replacements: J Rael (Garryowen & Munster), P Reilly (Lansdowne & Leinster), J Cawley (Old Belvedere & Leinster), T Beirne (Lansdowne & Leinster), J Coghlan (UCD & Leinster), K Marmion (Corinthians & Connacht), C Marsh (Dublin University & Leinster), S Olding (Belfast Harlequins & Ulster).

ENGLAND (U20 v Ireland): A Watson (London Irish); M Yarde (London Irish), W Addison (Sale), R Mills (Gloucester), C Walker (Harlequins); T Heathcote (Bath), D Robson (Gloucester); A Hepburn (Wasps), K Britton (Gloucester), K Sinckler (Harlequins); T Price (Leicester), D Barrow (Leeds); M Kvesic (Worcester), C Walker (Leeds, capt), J Clifford (Harlequins).

Replacements: N Morris (London Wasps), L Cowan &Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), R Harrison (Sale Sharks), G Merrick (Harlequins), D Sisi (London Irish), B Spencer (Saracens), S Hill (Exeter Chiefs), B Ransom (Saracens).

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