Mike Ruddock has made several changes to the squad who overturned Australia in their opening Junior World Championship fixture in picturesque Vannes.
Sunday’s second round encounter with the Pacific Islanders will see a new-look side contest against a robust pack and a lively back-line as the squad look to build ahead of the highly anticipated All Blacks battle which looms on the horizon.
The red-headed Ulstermen, Rory Scholes and Conor Joyce, retain their starting shirts on the wing and in the back-row respectively. The in-form Scholes will be manning the back-line flank in search of another touch-down, whilst Joyce will be taking over the mantle and responsibility of Captain from Leinster’s young prospect, Luke McGrath.
Joyce will be joined by his Malone associate Chris Taylor in the pack, with Taylor awarded his first start of the Championship, debuting at tighthead after recovering from a knee injury. Ballynahinch’s John Donnan is handed a well-deserved rest on the bench but will surely feature against the baby blacks, with his contribution in the line-out a vital cog in the Irish winning wheel.
Twins Edward and Bryan Byrne take their first bow in the tournament at loosehead and hooker. Gavin Thornbury and Sean McCarthy are introduced in the second-row and provide some extra kilos for the physical encounter. Impressive substitute against Australia, Daniel Leavy, makes up the back-row trio at seven with Irish Under-20 debutant Jack O’Donoghue pulling on the eight shirt to link with Joyce who starts at blind-side.
Talisman Thomas Daly maintains his centre spot with Steve Crosbie pulling the strings for the second time at fly-half. David Shanahan is given his first start in an Ireland Under-20 jersey and takes over from stalwart McGrath at the base ot the scrum. Daly is joined by his Lansdowne clubman Mark Roche in the centre, whilst Darragh Leader and Darren Sweetnam complete the back-three at full-back and on the wing.
With the Fijians attempting to re-build after the back-handing shown to them by New Zealand in their opening round dismissal, the Irish side come into this game with forward momentum and a self-assurance that they can topple a Southern Hemisphere opponent.
Fiji’s over-exuberant style of defensive play was highlighted by two of their starting men seeing red against the Kiwis. This could well be the difference between the two sides on the day, with Ireland showing clinical precision in their execution of the Wallabies.
The Irish will look to play a structured game through their efficient set piece in order to combat the attacking flare associated with the Fijians. Holes should appear in the Islander’s defence as the match develops, given their tendency to play such an expansive style. This will give Ireland’s back-line opportunity to counter through Crosbie’s instinctive off-load and Daly’s magic eye for the gap, as Joyce and Co seek to lay a concrete platform in the forwards.
IRELAND U20: Darragh Leader (Galwegians/Connacht); Darren Sweetnam (UCC/Munster), Mark Roche (Lansdowne/Connacht), Thomas Daly (Lansdowne/Leinster), Rory Scholes (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster); Steve Crosbie (Old Belvedere/Leinster), David Shanahan (Clontarf/Leinster); Edward Byrne (UCD/Leinster), Bryan Byrne (UCD/Leinster), Chris Taylor (Malone/Ulster), Gavin Thornbury (UCD/Leinster), Sean McCarthy (Shannon/Munster), Conor Joyce (Malone/Ulster) (capt), Daniel Leavy (UCD/Leinster), Jack O’Donoghue (UL Bohemians/Munster). Replacements: George McGuigan (Newcastle Falcons/Exile), Peter Dooley (Lansdowne/Leinster), Ryan Furniss (Worcester Warriors/Exile), John Donnan (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster), Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster), Rory Scannell (Dolphin/Munster), David Panter (Corinthians/Connacht).