I’ve been rather remiss in my coverage of the 2014 IRB Junior World Championship, which kicks off on Monday 6th June in New Zealand, mainly because there is not a single Ulster player, that has been through the “Ulster Way”, involved in the competition.
There is however one Ulster representative, none other than Belfast Harlequins Frank Taggart, who learnt his rugby at Whitgift School, South Croydon, and came into the Ulster Academy at the beginning of the 2013 season through the Irish Exiles programme along with fellow Whitgift alumni Lorcan Dow who plays at Queens.
No disrespect to Taggart, we’re delighted to have him represent the red hand, but it is a sad state of affairs when not a single Ulster schoolboy can be seen to have progressed into the Irish U20’s set up, though Ulster probably have themselves to blame having pulled star players such as Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding from key U20’s fixtures in the past.
It’s a pity, as this is, on paper, one of the easiest draws that the Ireland U20’s have had in this competition for a long, long, time, avoiding, as they do, all four of the traditional powerhouses in the pool stages.
The kind hand of fate has placed Ireland in Pool B with France, Fiji and Wales, avoiding New Zealand, England, Australia and South Africa. In previous years this would have led to a confident prediction of a top four finish.
Unfortunately, this is one of the more workmanlike squads that Ireland have had for some time and having been beaten by France (23 – 13) and Wales (0 – 16) in a fourth place finish in the U20 Six Nations, it appears that they are still going to be up against it. Realistically, a 9th place finish probably the best they can hope for.
However there are 10 changes to the squad that competed in the Six Nations, Queen’s David Busby and the impressive Sean O’Brien from Munster being two of quite a few missing out due to injury, and this competition is all about focusing on the key matches over a gruelling schedule of five games in 18 days.
Despite what I have said above, such is the nature of tournament play and pool draws that it is conceivable that Ireland could work their way into a top four finish by winning their first two games and losing all the rest. Finishing at the top of their pool, or as the highest runner up across the three pools, would guarantee them fourth place. I suspect this is where their focus will be.
France are first up on Monday morning (2nd June. KO 6:35am UK/IRE) and it is possible that Ireland could catch them cold. If they do it will all come down to Wales on Friday morning (6th June 6:35am UK/IRE). Two wins would probably be enough, but if they are in that position I can’t see them slipping up against Fiji in their final Pool match (Tuesday 10th June. KO 2:35am UK/IRE). The Fijians are usually big athletic units but tend to lack the organisation of the European teams, but as I said, depending on the results in the previous two rounds this game might not even mater.
Two big games could make this the most successful Ireland U20’s side in this tournament’s history – now how did I talk myself into that! 🙄
Go on Frankie you cert! #SUFTUM
Ireland U20 Team for France: Cian Kelleher, Ciaran Gaffney, Garry Ringrose, Dan Goggin Ian Fitzpatrick, Ross Byrne, Nick McCarthy, Peter Dooley, Max Abbott, Craig Trenier, Stephen Gardiner, Ross Molony, Peadar Timmins, Frankie Taggart, Jack O’Donoghue. Replacements: Dylan Donnellan, Denis Coulson, Rory Burke, Darragh Moloney, Diarmaid Dee, Ryan Foley, Conor McKeon, Billy Dardis