This really is a cut throat competition. Two games ago Ireland were looking a good bet for the final four, however a narrow defeat to the All Blacks (31 – 26) saw them lose out on the top four on points difference and an 8- 9 defeat by hosts France, with the Pups profligate with their penalty chances, now sees the U20’s once again facing their Australian counterparts for 7th place. From contenders to also rans in the space of the week.
Disappointingly the loss to New Zealand bumped Ireland out of the main stream coverage so we’ve nothing to go on aside from the “generally optimistic” IRFU report but it appears that Ireland suffered against France due to, the injured, Tom Daly being unavailable for kicks.
This is a brutal tournament, with five games in 18 days and the loss of Daly, added to the absence of Olding and Henshaw to the senior touring party, was a bridge too far for this hard working squad who can justifiably feel let down by the IRFU over selections for this tournament.
Having said that, the squad can be proud of their performances, they have shown excellent commitment and an exceptional team ethos that many of the senior sides can learn from. Shorn of their star players, I must admit, I didn’t give them much of a chance but they have punched well above their weight against their peers and the four Ulster players in the squad all played a key role, Rory Scholes and Conor Joyce being particularly impressive.
All four of the Ulster boys are involved in the final game with Christopher Taylor recovering from an early injury against France to take his place in the front row along side the Byrne twins.
The hard working John Donnan makes his fifth appearance in the second row and partners Gavin Thornburry for the third time this tournament. Conor Joyce, also making his fifth appearance of the tournament, moves along the back row from 6 to 8 to accommodate the return of Daniel Leavy.
Ever-present Rory Scholes, who has been Ireland’s main attacking threat, with three tries in the tournament so far, runs out for the second game in a row at full back.
Meanwhile, Australia head coach Adrian Thompson has selected a strong team which will be led once again by Super Rugby-capped number 8 Curtis Browning.
Browning, who has signed a two-year deal with Queensland Reds after making his Super Rugby debut in March, heads up a back row that includes Mark Baldwin – one of five changes to the side that started the recent defeat to Ireland.
Easts duo Pettowa Paraka and Andrew Ready have been added to the front row, while Luke Burton and Waldo Wessels come in for the benched Ben Meehan and Ulupano Seuteni respectively in the back-line.
Thompson’s charges lost 22-15 to Argentina in their midweek play-off game with prop Paraka and Silatolu Latu, who will be the reserve hooker against Ireland, scoring a try apiece.
Speaking on the match Ireland’s Coach Mike Ruddock stated: “Australia will have learned from the first game. They’ll have done a bit more work on us to counter some of the stuff we brought to it.
But I am still expecting the boys to pick themselves us, dust themselves down and come out firing.”
Personally I expect Ireland to struggle in this one with 8th place a disappointing finish for a hard working squad.
AUSTRALIA U-20: Jonah Placid (QLD); Harry Parker (QLD), Lalakai Foketi (NSW), Luke Burton (WA), Alex Northam (NSW); Jake McIntyre (NSW), Waldo Wessels (NSW); Pettowa Paraka (QLD), Andrew Ready (QLD), Oliver Hoskins (WA), Senio Toleafoa (NSW), Tom Staniforth (ACT), Michael Wells (NSW), Mark Baldwin (NSW), Curtis Browning (QLD) (capt).
Replacements: Silatolu Latu (NSW), Allan Alaalatoa (NSW), Phil Kite (QLD), Jack Dempsey (NSW), Patrick Sio (NSW), Ben Meehan (QLD), Reece Hodge (NSW), Ulupano Seuteni (QLD).
IRELAND U-20: Rory Scholes (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster); Adam Byrne (UCD/Leinster), Thomas Farrell (Lansdowne/Leinster), Rory Scannell (Dolphin/Munster), Alex Wootton (Northampton Saints/Exile); Steve Crosbie (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster) (capt); Edward Byrne (UCD/Leinster), Bryan Byrne (UCD/Leinster), 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: George McGuigan (Newcastle Falcons/Exile), Ryan Furniss (Worcester Warriors/Exile), Adam Boland (Lansdowne/Connacht), Sean McCarthy (Shannon/Munster), Peadar Timmins (UCD/Leinster), David Shanahan (Clontarf/Leinster), Mark Roche (Lansdowne/Connacht), David Panter (Corinthians/Connacht).