Tonight, Nigel Carolan’s U20s embark on their own journey at the Stadio Pozzi Lamarmora in Biella, halfway between Turin and Milan and a good seven-hour drive north of the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
Carolan has had the benefit of coaching 11 of the players who featured at this grade last year: eight of them in the corresponding tournament 12 months ago and three more who were added to the pool for a Junior World Cup in which Ireland would finish fourth.
With six UCD players and four from Queens University Belfast in the XV, cohesion should be greater than the norm for the opening round at this level.
“If we can get our pack winning the physical battle up front then we can definitely cut some teams open out wide this year,” said scrum-half and captain Nick McCarthy, one of the UCD players and also among those returning from 2014.
They start off against an Italian selection under the watchful eye of former Azzurri scrum-half Alessandro Troncon, whose squad is drawn mostly from the top domestic tier National Championship of Excellence and the second-tier Serie A where a number of centrally contracted players play with the national academy.
ITALY: G De Santis; L Sperandio, M Gabbianelli, E Lucchin, Y Agbasse, M Azzolini, L Petrozzi; D Dallavalle, L Luus, P Buonfliglio; D Zanetti, D Fragnito; M Archetti, D Bergamin, R Giammarioli.
IRELAND: B Dardis (Leinster); G O’Shea (Munster), G Ringrose (Leinster), F Cleary (Leinster), J Owens (Ulster), R Byrne (Leinster), N McCarthy (Leinster); J Loughman (Leinster), Z McCall (Ulster), O Heffernan (Leinster); D O’Connor (Leinster), A Thompson (Ulster); J Murphy (Leinster), R Moloney (Connacht) L Dow (Ulster).
Replacements: A McBurney (Ulster), M Lagan (Ulster), C O’Donnell (Connacht), C Romaine (Connacht), N Timoney (Leinster), J Cullen (Munster), J Carbery (Leinster), S Arnold (Ulster).