Peter Malone’s Ireland U20 side face an onerous task if they are to reach the World Cup final for the second year in a row.
Defeat to Italy in their opening game means Ireland need wins over Scotland (tomorrow, AIA Arena Kutaisi, 10am) and heavyweights New Zealand (next week) to reach the semi-finals.
At the very least a win tomorrow will keep Ireland’s hopes alive of taking the only best runner-up slot in the last four.
Tomorrow’s opponents have yet to register a point in Pool B after their 42-20 defeat to New Zealand, but considering Malone’s side only won by one point when they met in the Six Nations, he is expecting a real test from the Scots.
“They are a serious team they were pretty sharp against New Zealand and we have a big challenge again on Sunday,” said Malone, who took over as head coach from Nigel Carolan following that Six Nations campaign.
“We did some good stuff in the second-half (against Italy) and we’ll learn from where we were pretty average at times in the first half. We need to learn for Scotland.”
Malone will name his team at lunchtime today but it is likely to feature a number of changes to the side that started the defeat to the Italians. Hooker Ronan Kelleher impressed off the bench when he replaced the injured Diarmuid Barron while Alan Tynan’s appearance on the wing, also after 24 minutes, brought an improvement in the back division — both players could are likely to start as a result.
Scotland are also unlikely to alter their team hugely after their impressive showing in defeat against New Zealand, and John Dalziel will look to the experience of Edinburgh full-back Blair Kinghorn and Glasgow No 8 Matt Fagerson for leadership.
Despite their 22-21 loss to Italy, Ireland showed glimpses of their class after the interval, with centres Gavin Mullin — son of Ireland international Brendan — and Ciaran Frawley impressing, while Munster youngster Calvin Nash also sparkled with two second-half tries.
Frawley was hugely disappointed to miss a long-range penalty that would have clinched the win for his side in the 81st minute, but Malone refused to pin the blame on the Leinster back.
“We’re disappointed but there is a lot to learn,” he said. “It was a tough miss but he had just nailed the previous one to get us ahead. He was unlucky, he struck it well, so when you strike it well and it doesn’t go over there is little you can do. It’s a 15 man game, 28 man squad and coaches management all have to take responsibility.”
Meanwhile, Saracens yesterday confirmed Ireland U20 hooker Tadgh McElroy has joined the club’s senior academy. McElroy was withdrawn from the U20 squad when news of his proposed move emerged.
McElroy, who came through the ranks with Dundalk RFC, impressed for Ireland U20s during the 2017 U20 Six Nations, starting all five games and scoring three tries.
McElroy said: “I am delighted to have signed for the best club team in Europe currently. It will take me out of my comfort zone and challenge me 100% and I have no doubt it is the best place for me to develop as a player in a winning environment with excellent coaches.”
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