John_s_version_1Ireland U20 coach Nigel Carolan has, largely, reverted back to the starting line-up that featured against Wales and New Zealand for Monday’s semi final clash against Argentina in the 2016 World Rugby U20 Championship. The match takes place in the Manchester City Academy Stadium and kicks off at 17:30. It will be shown live on TG4 and Sky Sports 3. 

The squad features three Ulster players in the starting line up with Jacob Stockdale starting at full back, Johnny McPhillips at out half and Adam McBurney at hooker. All three have appeared in every championship squad to date. 

Second row Evan Mintern and tighthead prop Adam Coyle are the only two, of the players brought in for the Georgia match, to get a second run, albeit from the bench, with regulars Cillian Gallagher and Vakh Abdaladze rested. All in all, the starting line up is pretty much as expected, given injuries and those wonderful performances against Wales and New Zealand. 

It’s a team based on an excellent work ethic and no shortage of skills, but, it’s been their indomitable spirit, personified by captain James Ryan, that has made this team special and, my goodness, they have been a joy to watch. 

I shouldn’t really single out individuals, as this is a real team, but I just want to say how much I’ve enjoyed, from our pitch side vantage point, the effortlessly silky smooth winger Hugo Keenan (pictured above) , the tireless work of back rowers Max Deegan and Greg Jones and the sheer animal power of prop Andrew Porter. However, the icing on the cake has been the performances of the Ulster players, Jacob Stockdale, Adam McBurney and Johnny McPhillips, who have performed well beyond, even my, rose tinted expectations. 

The power and pace of Stockdale at full back marks him as a class apart, his mere presence like a huge security blanket round the rest of the back line. He’s the type of player that generates the murmur in the stand, that frisson of excitement, when he gets his hands on the ball, executing so effectively that opponents are denied their long ball game. This is his stage and he’s ready for it. 

McBurney, on the other hand, goes about his tasks almost unnoticed, but noticed he has been, featuring in the World Rugby Match Day Dream Team twice already (as have Ryan and Porter and hopefully they’ll feature in a couple more before the tournament ends). He is the mirror of Rory Best at the breakdown and is deceptively quick with the ball in hand. Somehow he always finds himself in the right place and, while he could avoid many of the contact situations, he actively seeks the physical battle that he so obviously relishes, as evidenced by his try against New Zealand. 

Which leaves us with McPhillips, who started the tournament as back up to Bill Johnston. He got his chance against New Zealand and he grabbed it with both hands. Having struggled from the tee during the Six Nations his stats for this tournament have been excellent, easily in the top three and, like Stockdale, he looks to be enjoying his time on the world stage. He has always been a confident player but has added a lot of maturity in the time between the two competitions, taking far fewer risks. I do hope, however, that he gets a chance to cut loose as it’s the unexpected that will make the difference over the next two games! 

As for Argentina, well, we don’t know too much about them. We, and Ireland, have been based at the Manchester City Academy Stadium, whereas the Argentinians have played all their games at the AJ Bell. However, they have progressed through their pool somewhat sedately with wins against France, South Africa and Japan in what appear to be forward dominated battles with a record similar to Ireland’s. It look’s like, once again, this is going to be a battle of the big boys up front. Which leads us to …

The FRU Predicts: What can we say? We haven’t seen Argentina play and even if we had we are so invested in the progress of this young team that all logic has not only gone out the window but got in it’s car and driven to the next town. 

However, we are confident that this team will stand tall and will prevail and will appear in their first ever World Rugby U20 Final next Saturday. 

Jacob Stockdale 15 Bautista Delguy
Matthew Byrne 14 Tomas Malanos
Shane Daly 13 Juan Cruz Mallia
Conor O’Brien 12 Santiago Mare
Hugo Keenan 11 Julian Dominguez
Johnny McPhillips 10 Domingo Miotti
Stephen Kerins 9 Patricio Baronio
Andrew Porter 1 Ruben Ricco
Adam McBurney 2 Gaspar Baldunciel
Ben Betts 3 Santiago Medrano
Sean O’Connor 4 Franco Molina
James Ryan 5 Ignacio Calas
Greg Jones 6 Marcos Kremer
David Aspil 7 Mariano Romanini
Max Deegan 8 Vicente Boronat
Vincent O’Brien 16 Roman Pretz
James Bollard 17 Santiago Pulella
Adam Coyle 18 Gonzalo Del Pazo
Evan Mintern 19 Conrado Roura
Kelvin Brown 20 Bautista Stavile Bravin
Niall Saunders 21 Lautaro Bazan Velez
Brett Connon 22 Martin Elias
Jimmy O’Brien 23 Matias Ozadczuk