We have a look at the statistics behind Ireland U20’s recent Six Nations campaign. Has it been a good or bad tournament for the Ulster youngsters?
Ireland finished fourth overall, with three wins and two losses. They had the same number of wins as France and Wales but their inability to pick up bonus points, and a substantial defeat to Wales, left them trailing behind in this group.
Ireland U20 Six Nations Results.
|Scotland U20||19||–||20||Ireland U20|
|Italy U20||26||–||27||Ireland U20|
|Ireland U20||27||–||22||France U20|
|Wales U20||41||–||27||Ireland U20|
|Ireland U20||10||–||14||England U20|
I guess it would be best described as a workmanlike tournament from the Irish youngsters who battled to narrow wins against Scotland, Italy and France before going down to a substantial defeat to Wales. They produced another battling display against England in the final match.
Despite the normally reserved Ireland U20 Coach Nigel Carolan talking this group up recently, I have to say that some of the performances were disappointing with only the first half against France and the second half against England really hitting the heights. However, it was a very similar tournament to last years youngsters, who went on to get their highest ever finish in the 2016 World Rugby U20 Championship. I would say though, last year’s youngsters threw away points trying to play an expansive game whereas this season’s cohort were just not expansive enough.
Ireland U20 Six Nations Final Standings
Carolan used 34 players this tournament compared to 30 last year, I believe, and injuries did hit hard, particularly the loss of experienced players Johnny McPhillips (Ulster) and Cillian Gallagher (Connacht). The other Ulster players didn’t fare well in this regard either with Rob Lyttle and Peter Cooper also picking up injuries. Queen’s University’s Johnny Stewart was an ever present at scrum half and Marcus Rea got three outings in a competitive back row. However, it was another disappointing tournament for Ulster involvement with the minutes played way behind those of the other main provinces.
Ireland U20: Time Played by Province
Again, it’s fairly similar stats for Ulster compared to last season where only McPhillips and Adam McBurney featured regularly in the Six Nations, with Jacob Stockdale only released for the last two games. McPhillips, McBurney and Stockdale all did go on to become key players in the U20 Championship; Stockdale leading try scorer for Ireland, McPhillips leading points scorer and McBurney making the World Rugby Team of the Tournament.
Ireland U20 Players to Look Out For.
The top six players that featured for the most minutes are shown below.
Leinster’s Jordan Larmour and Paul Boyle featured for every minute of every game. Larmour had an impressive tournament, starting on the wing before switching to full back. Paul Boyle and Caelan Doris, also Leinster, appear to have openside and No. 8 wrapped up. Yet another Leinster player,Ciaran Frawley looks to have inside centre in the bag, and he certainly grew into the position throughout the tournament.
Joey Conway (Munster) played a phenomenal amount of minutes at tighthead, only missing 8 minutes the whole tournament which is good and bad. Excellent for the individual but I feel you do need battle hardened replacements for tournament play and no one else got game time in this pivotal position. Ulster’s Jonny Stewart looks to have the scrum half berth wrapped up, having a good series. However a 20 minute cameo by his replacement against England will keep him on his toes.
Seven of the twelve tries scored came from forwards, which was indicative of the style of play Ireland had to adopt to grind out results. Leinster hooker Tadgh McElroy led the way with three tries off the back of driving mauls with Boyle, Leinster second row Oisin Dowling and Munster back row Gavin Coombes also scoring at close range.
In the backs Jordan Larmour caught the eye with a brace of long range efforts on the wing against France and fellow Leinster winger Tommy O’Brien crossed against Italy and Wales. Munster’s highly rated Calvin Nash also found the line against Wales but had a quiet tournament overall.
The rest of Ireland’s points came from the boot of the acting out half with McPhillips and Munster’s Bill Johnston accounting for the bulk.
Looking back at the stats from last season I’m surprised that this years side scored more tries than last year, 12 against nine, as they seemed to be much more attacking last year. Mind you, they did leave a lot of chances on the pitch until they got their act together in the World Championship!
Ireland U20 Team for Georgia?
So what’s the likely starting side going to look like for Ireland’s opening match against Italy in the 2017 World Rugby U20 Championship in Kutaisi Stadium, Kutaisi, Georgia? There are some definite starters but quite a few positions are open for discussion. Here’s our best guess (minutes played in that position follows the players names) : –
15. Full Back: Rob Lyttle
Four youngsters were tried at full back. Jordan Larmour 160, Rob Lyttle 75, Colm Hogan 71 and Jack Kelly 63. Larmour ended tournament as the man in possession after starting the tournament on the right wing. However I suspect they’ll want to get the experienced Rob Lyttle on the pitch in his favoured position and he is too good to ignore, providing he gets fit between now and the end of May.
14. Right Wing: Jordan Larmour
Only Jordan Larmour 240 and Tommy O’Brien 160 featured on the right wing, both scoring tries from this position. however I suspect that it’ll be Larmour who gets the nod, his partnership with Lyttle giving Ireland plenty of fire power.
13. Outside Center: Gavin Mullin
Three players were tried at outside centre, Gavin Mullin 240, Tommy O’Brien 80 and Jack Kelly 50 though Mullin will be the first pick if fit. The highly rated Jack Kelly also had a run here but with the rest of the players stepping up he’s now going to have to fight for a starting berth after injury issues.
12. Inside Centre: Ciaran Frawley
Only one option here with Frawley clocking up 396 minutes out of a possible 400.
11. Left Wing. Calvin Nash
Only two starters here but neither Colm Hogan 80 or Calvin Nash 198 really made the position their own. The much talked about Nash had a quiet tournament. I suspect they will stick with Nash but Jack Kelly might get the call.
I suspect the selection dilemma between Johnny McPhillips 151, and Bill Johnston 230 will go on for years to come. Both are excellent out halfs. Johnston has missed the bulk of this season due to injury and McPhillips has edged ahead – he does look the more complete article having worked on his defence. If fit, they will start with McPhillips, though both will see substantial game time.
9. Scrum Half: Jonny Stewart
Again were only looking at one option here with Johnny Stewart 366 the main contender by some margin. Jack Lyons 28 and Jack Stafford 20 did get some game time from the bench, Stafford having a good final quarter against England. However Stewart should have this one locked up, particularly if he’s partnering with McPhillips.
1. Loosehead Prop: Joey Conway
Only one option here, Joey Conway who only missed 8 minutes the whole series.
2. Hooker: Tadgh McElroy
An impressive tournament from Tadgh McElroy 307 who dominated his position.
3. Tighthead Prop: Charlie Connolly
Two starters here in Peter Cooper 63 and Charlie Connolly 269. Ulsterman Cooper is getting a shoulder operation in the hope that he will be available but Connolly is the man in possession and will start until Cooper proves his fitness.
4. Second Row: Fineen Wycherley
Fineen Wycherley 305 and Jack Regan 55 both got a run out in the boiler room but Wycherley has made the position his own.
5. Second Row: Oisin Dowling
Only one starter and only one choice with Oisin Dowling clocking up 294 minutes alongside Wycherly.
6. Blindside Wing Forward: Cillian Gallagher
A few options here with Cillian Gallagher 143, Marcus Rea 80, Gavin Coombes 64 and John Foley 62 all getting a start. However the fact that neither Rea, Coombs or Foley could make the position their own, after injury to Gallagher, points to the experienced Gallagher still being in the driving seat, and rightly so. His experience is needed so hopefully he’ll make a full recovery.
7. Openside Wing Forward: Paul Boyle
Only one contender, Paul Boyle made the position his own, playing every minute of every match.
8. No. 8: Caelan Doris
Same goes for Caelan Doris who only missed 5 minutes throughout the series.
16. Replacement hooker: Ronan Kelleher
Adam Moloney 17 and Ronan Kelleher 76 both got game time but Kelleher finished the competition as the number 2, Number 2.
17. Replacement Loosehead. Undecided.
Both Rory Mulvihill 5 and Greg McGrath 3 only got limited time here, which is worrying. I’d guess there is room for an outsider to come in. We’ll leave this one at undecided.
18. Replacement Tighthead: Peter Cooper.
Matthew Burke 37, Charlie Connolly 17 and Peter Cooper 14 all benched throughout the series until Connolly took prime position following Coopers injury. If fit I suspect Cooper will be recalled to keep Connolly on his toes.
19. Replacement Second Row. Jack Regan
Jack Regan 71 and Gavin Coombes 25 both stood in as second row replacements, Coombes stepping up due to injuries. Coombes versatility will get him plenty of game time but the second row berth is Regan’s.
20. Replacement Back Row: Gavin Coombes
The versatile Gavin Coombes clocked 63 minutes as replacement back row alongside 25 mins as second row replacement and 64 minutes as a back row starter. This just gives him the edge over Ulster’s Marcus Rea who clocked 21 minutes as a replacement on top of 80 minutes as a starter. John Foley who had 62 mins as a starter against England could also be an outside bet but Sean Masterson 8 seems to be out of the reckoning.
21. Replacement Scrum Half: Jack Stafford
Jack Lyons 28 and Jack Stafford 20 both got time at scrum half from the bench. Stafford, despite only making one appearance might just have played his way into the squad with an impressive last quarter performance against England.
22. Replacement Out Half: Bill Johnston
As said earlier Johnston and McPhillips will be fighting this out for years to come. Connor Fitzgerald did feature in ever squad and got 67 minutes game time in the process – unlucky to miss out.
23. Replacement Utility Back: Jack Kelly
Tommy O’Brien 26, Alex McHenry 49 and Colm Hogan 40 all made appearances from the bench but only McHenry didn’t get a starting spot. O’Brien totaled 266 minutes on the pitch and Hogan 191 minutes overall but, if fit, I suspect Jack Kelly will be given the opportunity to challenge for a starting space.
So there we go, our likely starters come 31st May. Be aware there are a few injuries out there so it may well change, depending on rehab. There will be 32 players travelling so expect all of the above to be there or thereabouts.