The side to face the might of New Zealand in the final round of the group stages of the IRB Junior World Championship in Vannes on Thursday has been finalised.
All four of the Ulster contingent involved in the Irish squad have been named in the starting fifteen. Star man Rory Scholes retains his shirt on the wing whilst Malone duo Conor Joyce and Chris Taylor get the start following their sterling performance against the Fijians. Joyce moves round to cover eight this time round with Taylor maintaining his spot at tighthead. General of the line-out, John Donnan, is also given the nod in the second-row.
Talisman Daly has been ruled out of further competition action as a result of a hand injury picked up in the game against Fiji. Rory Scannell is therefore introduced in the centre and partners Thomas Farrell who starts at out-side centre.
The out-half partnership of Captain Luke McGrath and distributing Steve Crosbie at scrum-half and fly-half respectively mirrors the starting partnership against the Wallabies. Adam Byrne makes a return to the starting squad on the wing as Darragh Leader keeps a hold of his full-back shirt to complete the back-line.
The pack sees Peter Dooley and George McGuigan make their second starts of the Championship to accompany Taylor in the front-row. Gavin Thornbury adds extra kilos alongside Ballynahinch’s Donnan after a solid show against Fiji.
The two flanks are filled by Josh Van der Flier and Daniel Leavy at open-side and blind-side, with both Leinster men technicians of the turn-over.
The bench sees the Byrne brothers as strong replacements for the front-row, along with impact player Adam Boland. Impressive second-row Peadar Timmins features amongst the substitutes with the robust Ryan Murphy providing cover in the back-row. Speedsters Mark Roche and Darren Sweetnam are the back-line replacements, as lively David Shanahan is second in line for the scrum-half position.
IRELAND UNDER-20: Darragh Leader (Galwegians/Connacht); Adam Byrne (UCD/Leinster),Thomas Farrell (Lansdowne/Leinster), Rory Scannell (Dolphin/Munster), Rory Scholes (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Steve Crosbie (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster) (capt); Peter Dooley (Lansdowne/Leinster), George McGuigan (Newcastle Falcons/Exile), Christopher Taylor (Malone/Ulster), Gavin Thornbury (UCD/Leinster), John Donnan (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Daniel Leavy (UCD/Leinster), Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster), Conor Joyce (Malone/Ulster).
Replacements: Edward Byrne (UCD/Leinster); Bryan Byrne (UCD/Leinster), Adam Boland (Lansdowne/Connacht), Peadar Timmins (UCD/Leinster), Ryan Murphy (Dolphin/Munster),
David Shanahan (Clontarf/Leinster), Mark Roche (Lansdowne/Connacht), Darren Sweetnam (UCC/Munster).
There are certainly some surprises in Mike Ruddock’s selection for the final and most testing group showdown with New Zealand.
The Byrne brothers brewed up a storm against the Fijians on Sunday and were the most effective carriers in the game. To see them relegated to the bench is a shame; however Ruddock must have them in mind for the role of stand-out impact subs.
Similarly, putting Thornbury ahead of Timmins may raise eyebrows. Timmins performed well in the overturn of Australia even when playing out of position in the second-row. The Leinster man is a natural back-rower.
It is great to see all four Ulster Academy players involved in this year’s Under-20 player pool getting the start. Scholes’ starting position was never in doubt given his scoring record in the Championship so far. Taylor’s ability in the scrum combines with his well-taken try against Fiji to set him above over front-row contenders, with Joyce and Donnan the men to set the structure in the pack.
It will be interesting to see how my brother goes at eight instead of his usual position at six. With the inclusion of the impressive Dan Leavy in the back-row, he was the obvious choice to send round the back door. However, I would also expect Ryan Murphy to make an appearance at some point during the game, given his pace and power.
Everyone in Vannes is looking forward to this one!