The Ireland U20 side has been announced for the World Rugby U20 Championship relegation play off against Japan U20 which takes place Sunday morning in Stade De La Mediterranee, Béziers. Kick off 11:00 am local time 10:00am UK/IRE.

Irrespective of whether the team win or lose it will be the worst finish for Ireland U20’s in the 11 years of this competition. In the two years since finishing in 2nd place the team will have recorded their worst ever back to back sequence. The IRFU need to revisit their decision to do away with the Interprovincial U20 Championship as the replacement system is not working and the quality of their intermediate coaching pathway is also in need of review following catastrophic results both in the U20’s and in the Women’s programme.

It’s not as if this year’s (and last year’s) cohorts didn’t have players of promise, they do (did), but their preparation and match play experience has been lacking and contrasts poorly with up and coming third tier sides such as Georgia and Japan. Georgia certainly appeared to have more savvy on the pitch and as for Japan, well, we’ll just have to wait and see.

In defence of the current coaching ticket, the U20’s programme has been in disarray since the departure of Nigel Carolan ahead of last season’s competition and this, coupled with a raft of injuries and late withdrawals, led to a difficult competition in 2017.

I expected something better this season. In my own head I had them ranked about 7th but that could easily have dropped to 9th given a few decisions going against them in this brutally abrasive competition. However their performance against Scotlandin the last round, was poor and I’ve got this nagging feeling that teams are being picked on fitness stats in preference to the players on field presence. 

Injuries have struck again for this game with Diarmuid Barron, Aaron Hall (Ballynahinch) and Michael Silvester all ruled out of tomorrow’s game. The impressive Michael Silvester has been replaced at fullback by Banbridge’s Michael Lowry who joined the squad a week ago. Lowry will link up with his Banbridge team mate James Hume who starts on the wing. Queen’s Jonny Stewart starts at scrum half and Ballymena’s Matthew Agnew continues at wing forward. Malone’s Joe Dunleavy will start from the bench with his clubmate Matthew Dalton sitting this one out.

The FRU Predicts: It really could go either way but we’re putting our tenner on Ireland winning after a big performance from Stewart at scrumhalf.

IRELAND U20 JAPAN U20
Michael LOWRY 15 YAMASAWA
James HUME 14 VAILEA
Sean O’BRIEN 13 VAKALAHI
Peter SYLVESTER 12 MORI
Tommy O’BRIEN 11 FIFITA
Harry BYRNE 10 MAMADA
Jonny STEWART 9 HONDO
Jordan DUGGAN 1 YAMADA
Dan SHEEHAN 2 ARAI
Jack AUNGIER 3 TSUKAYAMA
Cormac DALY 4 SHIMOKAWA
Jack DUNNE 5 HASHIMOTO
Jack DALY 6 YAMAMOTO
Matthew AGNEW 7 OKAYAMA (C)
Caelan DORIS (C) 8 MOALA
Dylan TIERNEY 16 TANIGUCHI
Jakub WOJTKOWICZ 17 ISHIDA
Joe BYRNE 18 OYAMA
Charlie RYAN 19 AIBE
Joe DUNLEAVY 20 FUKUI
Hugh O’SULLIVAN 21 FUJIWARA
Conor DEAN 22 KODAMA
Tom ROCHE 23 SARUTA

#SUFTUM