Ireland will be bidding to prevent a fourth successive loss at this level when they take on Six Nations Grand Slam winners Wales in the opening game of the World Rugby U-20 Championship in Manchester today (5.30pm).
The design of this competition, now in its eighth year, ensures at least two of the top teams in the world will be in each of the three pools as a dozen countries battle it out for the title.
This year is no exception for Ireland, with the Six Nations champions being followed on Saturday by New Zealand, who won it for the fifth time last year in Italy.
Georgia complete the pool, an unknown force, but what is appreciated is that they will want to do well and make sure they are in it next year when they host it.
No pressure then on Irish coach Nigel Carolan and his men as they embark in a tournament where their best ever finish was fourth in New Zealand two years ago.
All teams are guaranteed five matches. Ireland have been in Manchester since Thursday and have been training at Trafford Metrovik RFC on the south-west of the city near the Carrington bases of Man United and Manchester City.
They mightn’t have got a glimpse of either place in the past few days but yesterday they were taken through the front gates of the astonishing Manchester City Academy Stadium and complex adjacent to the Etihad Stadium.
The facility is remarkable, pitches, training areas, indoor facilities and heaven knows what’s behind some of the walls. Safe to say, no expense was spared on this one. The stadium — that’s the training ground one — holds 7,000 with an array of facilities on site. It’s designed for pampering millionaire footballers and it will be home for all of Ireland’s pool matches.
Irish coach Nigel Carolan is boosted by skipper James Ryan shaking off a calf injury and the former St Michael’s College lock will lead the side into battle.
“Everyone has come through good. Guys have been fairly sharp and very focused so very much looking forward to this,” added Carolan.
“It’s very similar to Italy last year in terms of the weather conditions so far,” added Carolan.
“It just adds to the whole occasion, but for most of these guys, four new caps hopefully, this is a new experience again so we’re really looking forward to it.” Munster’s promising out-half Bill Johnston has recovered from the shoulder injury which has delayed his debut at this level and a lot will depend on the Clonmel native who will be underage again next season.
The only other debutant in the starting 15 will be St Mary’s flanker David Aspil.
Front row forwards Vincent O’Brien and Georgian native Vakh Abdaladaze will also make their U-20 debuts if they come off the bench.
Team captain Ryan said the facilities were very impressive and the players can’t wait for kick-off this evening.
“The weather has been fantastic, the facilities are incredible. So no complaints, really we are just looking forward to getting going.
“We are all set now, it’s just countdown time now. We have been in Manchester since Thursday,” said the UCD student.
IRELAND: J Stockdale (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster); M Byrne (Terenure/Leinster), S Daly (Cork Con/Munster), C O’Brien (Clontarf/Leinster), H Keenan (UCD/Leinster); B Johnston (Garryowen/Munster), S Kerins (Sligo/Connacht); A Porter (UCD/Leinster), A McBurney (Ballymena/Ulster), C Kenny (Buccaneers/Connacht); C Gallagher (Sligo/Connacht), J Ryan (Lansdowne/Leinster); G Jones (UCD/Leinster), D Aspil (St Mary’s RFC/Leinster), M Deegan (Lansdowne/Leinster).
Replacements: V O’Brien (Cork Con/Munster), V Abdaladze (Clontarf/Leinster), B Betts (Young Munster/Leinster), S O’Connor (Cashel/Munster), K Brown (Shannon/Munster), N Saunders (Epsom College/Exiles), J McPhillips (Queen’s University/Ulster), J O’Brien (UCD/Leinster).
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