Despite the gulf in class between the sides in last year’s table, Ireland U20s forward coach Colm Tucker expects Scotland to come out with all guns blazing at Musgrave Park on Friday evening (RTÉ Two, 7.15pm).
On their way to securing a Six Nations grand slam in 2019, Noel McNamara’s men finished 20 points clear of the Scots and claimed a resounding 24-5 victory in their Round Two clash at Galashiels.
Yet Tucker believes their Celtic counterparts have the capacity to cause real headaches for the his champions.
“They’ve a new coaching ticket [head coach Sean Lineen returns for a second spell] and a lot of their U19s were exposed to this grade last year. It’s going to be a big challenge against them, but one we’re massively looking forward to,” said Tucker.
“I think we’re going to see an expansive team that are going to try and put width in the game. They’ll be testing us on the fringes. It will be something we have to be ready for.”
Though there will undoubtedly be pressure on Ireland to replicate the heroics of the last 12 months, just seven players return for a second season at the U20 grade.
Nevertheless, Tucker — who is employed by Connacht as a provincial talent coach —insists their exposure at this level will prove crucial as the tournament unfolds.
“U20s is an interesting group,” he said.
It’s almost a clean slate. I think you’ve got to draw a line under anything because it’s a new group for the most part.
“Lads like David McCann, Thomas Ahern, Tom Clarkson — they’re back again. Their experience at the World Cup, and some of them through the Six Nations last year, is going to be vital.”
While Tucker was with the squad for that U20 World Championship in Argentina last summer, he was a late addition to a coaching ticket that also included head coach Noel McNamara, his assistant Kieran Campbell, and scrum expert Ambrose Conboy.
Having watched from afar last spring, Tucker (son of former senior international Colm Sr) has been eager to leave his mark on this year’s group.
“That [World Championship] just gave me a taste and a flavour for the ins and outs of this grade,” the Limerick native said.
“What’s expected and what’s demanded. Trying to get my own stamp onto the forwards has been very exciting. The boys have been very, very good to work with.”
The aforementioned McCann, Ahern, and Clarkson are joined in tonight’s line-up by fellow grand slam stalwarts Charlie Ward and Brian Deeny, who makes his first Six Nations start in an Irish shirt. Banbridge’s McCann captains the side from a back-row that also features Leinster duo Sean O’Brien and Mark Hernan.
There are three Munster men included in the matchday 23, with Jack Crowley (Cork Constitution) and Ahern (Shannon) named at out-half and second-row respectively. Former Rockwell College student Ciaran Ryan is primed to make his debut off the bench, while another surviving member of last year’s group — Old Belvedere hooker John McKee — can also expect to some see action.
Connor Boyle is one of 11 players recalled for Scotland’s U20s Six Nations campaign, with head coach Sean Lineen blending experience and new blood in his 29-man training squad.
Boyle captained Scotland in the 2019 championship and scored tries against Italy, Ireland and Wales.
Heriot’s Rugby’s Jack Blain also returns after scoring two tries last year, while there are first call-ups for the likes of Archie Smeaton and Ewan Ashman who both came through the Scottish Qualified programme.