Ireland, ever-present in the tournament since it started in Wales in 2008, will face a baptism of fire this evening when they open their World Rugby U20 Championship campaign against France at Stade Aime Giral.
There have been a couple of weeks of celebrations in Perpignan following their promotion back to the Top 14 and the French are hoping to extend the feelgood factor to their national U20 side.
France come into this tournament as reigning U20 Six Nations champions and having underperformed in this competition — three third-place finishes has been as good as they have managed — they are anxious to make a mark this time round.
France only finished fifth when they hosted the tournament in 2013 — Ireland were eighth that year — but the structure of the competition, with three groups of four, mean one loss can scuttle a side.
And while Ireland have managed to avoid New Zealand and England — they have won nine of the 10 titles to date — they face a searching test against the hosts this evening and South Africa, the 2012 winners, over the next few days before concluding their pool against Georgia next week.
The Irish squad arrived in France on Saturday and settled into their team base in Narbonne, where they will play South Africa next Sunday and Georgia the following Thursday.
But first up are the hosts and coach Noel McNamara, who is assisted by Paul O’Connell and Connacht’s Ambrose Conboy, is hopeful they have done enough in their preparations to carry them through the demands of three matches in nine days.
“The reality is, in the World Cup itself, you have got to be really careful with the balance between getting work done and getting freshness. We have got to trust a lot of what we did in the Six Nations.
“We had a good run out against Munster. We went over to Scotland and played Scotland in the back pitch in Murrayfield and we had an exercise against Japan last week.”
Ireland lost to France 34-24 in the Six Nations and despite losing several players to injury since, McNamara is confident they have brought a strong squad to this tournament.
And while teams want to do well in this tournament, the competition is seen as a key pathway to the adult and perhaps professional game.
Two years ago Ireland reached the final for the first time and while they went down 45-21 to hosts England, Jacob Stockdale, Andrew Porter, and James Ryan came off that squad to win the Grand Slam earlier this season.
“We would feel their understanding of the game is developed,” added McNamara.
“One of things we are really looking for is that they pull their mates with them. They will pull each other on and coach each other a little bit.”
McNamara has handed three uncapped players their debut for tonight’s game with UCC centre Peter Sylvester being joined by wingers Tom Roche of Lansdowne and Dan Hurley from Young Munster in the starting 15.
Daniel Brennan, son of former Irish international Trevor, starts in the front row for the French.
Tonight’s match kicks off at 8pm and is live on eir Sport.
FRANCE: C Laporte; L Tauzin, PL Barassi, A Seguret, M Marty; R Ntamack, A Coville; H Kolingar, M Lamothe, D Brennan; T Lavault, K Geraci; S Zegueur, C Woki, C Francoz.
Replacements: G Marchand, JB Gros, D Bamba, PH Azagoh, J Joseph, J Gimbert, L Carbonel, M Lebel.
IRELAND: M Silvester (Dublin University/Leinster); T Roche (Lansdowne/Leinster), T O’Brien (UCD/Leinster), P Sylvester (UCC/Munster), D Hurley (Young Munster/Munster); H Byrne (UCD/Leinster), H O’Sullivan (Clontarf/Leinster); J French (UCC/Munster), D Barron (Garryowen/Munster), J Aungier (St Mary’s College/Leinster); M Dalton (Malone/Ulster), J Dunne (Dublin University/Leinster); J Dunleavy (Malone/Ulster), M Agnew (Ballymena/Ulster), C Doris (St Mary’s College/Leinster).
Replacements: D Sheehan (Dublin University/Leinster), J Duggan (Naas/Leinster), J Byrne (Dublin University/Leinster), C Ryan (UCD/Leinster), A Hall (Ballynahinch/Ulster), J Stewart (Queen’s University/Ulster), C Dean (St Mary’s College/Leinster), S O’Brien (Clontarf/Leinster).
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