Ireland in a good place, insists Noel McNamara

Ireland’s representatives at the U20s grade haven’t exactly made Donnybrook a fortress since swapping Dubarry Park for the Dublin venue midway through the 2015 Six Nations campaign.

Ireland in a good place, insists Noel McNamara

Three wins and as many defeats have been recorded at Leinster Rugby’s old home since then but Noel McNamara’s boys have the opportunity to improve things with three home matches on the spin to come in the next month.

First up is tonight’s meeting with Italy (7.15pm, RTÉ Two, live). After that it is the Welsh and then the Scots before a date with England’s reigning champions at the Ricoh Arena.

An opening loss in France last week means there will be no Grand Slam on offer for the Irish in Coventry.

Ireland were terrible in the opening 40 minutes of the tournament in Bordeaux seven days ago. They were porous defensively and seemingly a bundle of nerves going forward when their progress was stunted time and again by poor handling and passing.

Come the second half, they were unrecognisable from the side that had fallen 22-3 behind and the try finished by James McCarthy as part of a near-miraculous comeback was one destined for the highlights reel.

“Collectively we feel we could have done better in that [first] 40 minutes,” said McNamara.

“That’s the bottom line.

“It’s a learning experience and the challenge now is to get the things right this week that we didn’t last week. It’s great to have that opportunity again this week because you don’t get it in a one-off match. We have it now in this championship. We certainly feel we’re still in a good place this week.”

Ireland have made four switches for this one. That may be because of the physicality involved against the French as much as any suggestion that they will have it easy against an Italian side that put it up to England in round one.

As with Ireland, the Azzurri lost by 10 points in the end, at the Stadio Enzo Bearzot, and McNamara is probably right to talk up an opponent that has given Irish sides plenty to consider in the last year or so.

“We played Italy during the summer with the Leinster 20s and we watched them play against England,” he explained.

“They ran a very experienced England side very close. It was a tight run affair over there so we will expect a serious test.

“They have six players returning from the pack last year and the team that beat Ireland in a Junior Rugby World Cup. Their starting 10 is back so they have a lot of experience.

"They will be coming back here in a very positive frame of mind and looking for a result. We need to go about our business in the right way or we will be in for a very difficult evening.”

Ultimately, it’s hard to see any result other than an Irish win. Their three losses in Donnybrook to date have come at the hands of England (twice) and Wales and they have enough about them to get off the mark after last week’s false start.

IRELAND (U20s v Italy):

M Silvester (Trinity/Leinster); P Sullivan (Lansdowne/Leinster), T O’Brien (UCD RFC/Leinster), A Curtis (Queen’s /Ulster), J McCarthy (UL Bohemian/Munster); H Byrne (UCD/Leinster), H O’Sullivan (Clontarf/Leinster); J Duggan (Naas/Leinster), R Kelleher (UCD/ Leinster), J Aungier (St. Mary’s/Leinster); C Daly (ClontarfC/Leinster), J Dunne (Trinity/Leinster); S Masterson (Corinthians/Connacht), M Agnew (Ballymena/Ulster), J O’Sullivan (UCC /Munster).


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