Despite being odds-on favourites to extend their winning start to the Six Nations, Ireland U20s scrum coach Ambrose Conboy believes the biggest physical test of the tournament awaits them in Rieti this evening [kick-off 6pm, Irish time].
Following back-to-back triumphs over England and Scotland, the table-toppers will look to cement their position in a round three encounter with Italy at Stadio Centro d’Italia.
The Azzurri enter this contest on the back of a heavy reversal to Wales, but the work being done on the nation’s underage systems means Conboy is wary of their challenge.
“Their underage structure is always competitive. Whether it’s 18s, 19s or 20s.
“The FIR have put a lot of work and investment into that.
“The last three [Ireland] games against them, they were one-score games in the end,” the Galway man stated.
“They’re going to be physical, they’re going to be maulers. They’re going to be real quality scrummagers. As far as I’m concerned, it’s going to be probably a bigger scrummaging challenge than England. Not because of mass, but because of cohesiveness and the technical abilities of them.”
The Irish pack has, so far, answered every question posed to them and it therefore comes as little surprise that they are unchanged for a third game in succession.
The skill levels of the front-row was a notable feature of their wins to date, though Conboy stresses the importance of the set-piece to their continued success.
“I think Josh Wycherley has been very good for us and Michael Milne. The day is gone where it’s just one task, but it still comes back to their ability. All front-rows will be judged on their fundamental ability to be able to scrummage.
“Anything beyond that is a bonus in a roundabout way, but thankfully these guys have worked on a lot of their skillset all the way through.”
Conboy and head coach Noel McNamara will be hoping they can provide the clean ball that will allow the likes of Harry Byrne and skipper David Hawkshaw to dictate on the night.
The one frustration to arise from the Scotland game was the lack of a bonus point, which makes the return of vice-captain Craig Casey and Ulster’s Angus Kernohan all the more timely.
Casey’s inclusion at scrum-half brings to five the number of Munster players within the Irish starting line-up.