I didn’t give this group of youngsters much chance at the beginning of the tournament. I’m not a big fan of these one sided provincial selections in age grade teams and, to be honest, they didn’t show much fight in the RBS U20 Six Nations tournament.
However, the team, featuring Ulster’s Frankie Taggart, battled remarkably effectively through their group and a losing bonus to France coupled with bonus point wins against Wales and Fiji has put them at the top table for the first time in this competition as we go into the semi-final stages, where they face familiar opposition in England U20’s.
Ireland’s record isn’t great against their opponents having lost to the same side 33 – 9 in a pretty one-sided match in Franklin Gardens back in February, but at this stage of this intense competition it all comes down to the depth of the squad, fitness and the desire to win.
This time last year they had battled their way out of an extremely tough group in France, beating Australia and Fiji before narrowly losing out to New Zealand (31 – 26) in the pool decider. Shattered by their efforts in three physical games they didn’t win another match finishing 8th overall with what was a promising team.
However, this time round they do appear to have had an easier route to the knock out stages, with no players dropping out due to attrition, and they certainly appear to have the desire after battling back from the opening day loss but, worryingly, they haven’t dug that deep within the squad with the same 23 being there or there about over the three games so far and it’s pretty much same again for this one.
I would guess one more win would be their limit and, let’s face it, they couldn’t have a bigger incentive for tomorrow’s game than getting one over on their old rivals and with a first ever final tantalising close I expect these youngsters to have the game of their life.
Will it be enough? I don’t know, but it’ll certainly be worth getting up at 6:00 am tomorrow morning to find out. It should be a corker!
IRELAND U20: Cian Kelleher, Ciaran Gaffney, Garry Ringrose, Dan Goggin, Alex Wootton, Ross Byrne, Nick McCarthy, Peter Dooley, Max Abbott, Rory Burke, Stephen Gardiner, Ross Molony, Peadar Timmins, Frankie Taggart, Jack O’Donoghue. Replacements: Dylan Donnellan, Denis Coulson, Oisin Heffernan, Darragh Moloney, Rory Moloney, Ryan Foley, Conor McKeon, Harrison Brewer.