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Dublin: 4°C Wednesday 20 January 2021

'Eight as one': Ireland pack braced for U20 World Cup opener against England

Noel McNamara’s men have left the Grand Slam behind them as they travelled to Argentina.

TO A MAN, every last member of this Ireland squad agrees that the Six Nations has been let drift far into the rearview mirror as they prepare to take on the World Rugby U20 Championship.

It stands to reason then, fortunately enough, that last summer’s edition of the World Cup feels like a mere rumour.

Ireland must navigate their way through a veritable pool of death in the coming 12 days due to this tournament’s seeding system accounting for last year’s 11th-place finish in France. England are first up for Ireland this evening, with no easy tasks ahead when they clash with Australia – not long after a win over their Kiwi counterparts – and then that increasingly sticky wicket Italy.

Head coach Noel McNamara won’t have forgotten the rough run through France last year, but captain Charlie Ryan is the only common link between last the 2018 travelling squad and this. The towering Leinster lock took over as skipper just in time to seal the Slam in Colwyn Bay, but he is quick to pass credit down the chain of command.

“With this group I’ve learned I really don’t have to do too much as a captain. The lads lead themselves,” says Ryan.

Charlie Ryan celebrates after the game Charlie Ryan celebrates in Colwyn Bay. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“There  are so many leaders in the team like Craig (Casey) and Dylan (Tierney-Martin), the team looks after itself on that front, so all I’ve learned is really not to do too much as captain, just let the lads do what they do and not interfere too much in that.

“That’s what I’ve been doing. It’s worked up until now, thankfully and we’ll look to make it work in the tournament.”

Ryan notes that it is a ‘waste of energy’ to bemoan injury absences such as his predecessor as captain David Hawkshaw, out-half Harry Byrne or back rows Scott Penny and Martin Maloney. This group of players have made it their trademark to adapt and achieve under testing circumstances.

“Absolutely. Something that we talked about from the very start of the Six Nations was having trust in the 40-man squad,” says vice captain Casey.

“Harry and Scott, obviously they’re great players, but the players that are going to come in are going to add something to us as well.”

The powerful John Hodnett moves into Penny’s openside slot today, with Stewart Moore making an overdue burst onto the 20s scene in Hawkshaw’s absence and Jake Flannery taking over 10 duties alongside his fellow Shannon man Craig Casey.

In the lead-up to the Grand Slam, players and coaches credited the valuable time spent in camp at Fota Island. This time around the hope is the stint in Johnstown House – scene of the senior side’s 2009 pre-Six Nations air-clearing – will do the same trick. The key to their cohesion, Ryan says, is simply getting the know the man beside them.

“A lot of time is just spent chatting to each other, playing games, board games or walking our around the town. Just socialising and learning about each other,” says the UCD man.

“You can only spend so much time watching video, learning detail and training. It’s really important to get on with the lads so that camp is a nice place, the atmosphere is good and training can be affected as a result of that as well.”

And in a punishing competition with four-day turnarounds, the release valve of training can so often be removed. So all the more important that there is no unrest and rancour.

Everyone’s really good mates with eachother, so it’s great to see eachother again. We’re all really looking forward to having a really successful world cup, that’s all we’re focused on.

“The Six Nations is completely parked. We’ve taken confidence from it, yeah, but we completely parked it weeks ago. All our camps, everyone’s just been talking about our first game – that’s England. There’s been no talk about the Grand Slam, that’s in the back of peoples’ heads now, we’re not wasting time thinking about it. We’re just really looking forward to the first game against England.”

If the perennial finalists felt they were ambushed by Ireland on a freezing February night in Cork, then they will be intent on righting a perceived wrong in Santa Fe this afternoon (kick-off 19.30 Irish time, eir Sport 2).

Hooker Dylan Tierney-Martin was happy enough to shed a little light on the ‘dark arts’ they deployed in Musgrave Park, but he remains wary and mightily respectful of young English pack and is striving to work as a unified force to counteract them.

“You can say that their weight is their strength, but then they have had that extra exposure to a higher level as well because there are a lot more clubs in England. And everything at set-piece, especially the scrum, is about experience and technique more or less.

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Dylan Tierney-Martin Tierney-Martin in training. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“When you go up against lads who have played against seasoned pros and internationals it is quite an advantage for them.

“Thomas Clarkson and Josh Wycherley did an incredible job. Ambrose Conboy had us incredibly well-drilled on what we needed to do to England, to get them low and whatnot.

“Just to nullify that extra experience and that extra weight that they have. As an eight, when you are an unified group then the individual experience doesn’t matter. We talked a lot about that: eight as one.

“We survived for a lot of the game but we had 100% put in on our scrum in the Six Nations so that eight as one is huge.”

Win lose or draw, there are five matches ahead of McNamara’s squad over the next 18 days and so retaining that unity is critical to keeping their high standards through to the finish.

“The Six Nations is like a middle distance race. This is like the 800m. It’s still a sprint and it’s a tough sprint,” says McNamara.

As a squad, what we have done is done. Even after the Grand Slam it was a case of enjoying it but everyone wants to keep winning as well as long as you can. There was no dwelling on that.

“We are just looking ahead to England. We’re not looking at anything else. That first game. Every tournament everywhere is momentum. When you have games close together it is quite easy to move on to the next one when you are winning.

“It can be very tough when you’re not. You saw that with the lads last year after losing that first game to France. It could have been so much different if they had won that first game.”


15. Iwan Hughes (Ballynahinch/Ulster) *
14. Angus Kernohan (Queen’s University/Ulster)
13. Liam Turner (Dublin University/Leinster)
12. Stewart Moore (Malone/Ulster) *
11. Jonathan Wren (Cork Constitution/Munster)
10. Jake Flannery (Shannon/Munster)
9. Craig Casey (Shannon/Munster)

1. Josh Wycherley (Young Munster/Munster)
2. Dylan Tierney-Martin (Corinthians/Connacht)
3. Thomas Clarkson (Dublin University/Leinster)
4. Charlie Ryan (UCD/Leinster) (capt)
5. Ryan Baird (Dublin University/Leinster)
6. David McCann (Banbridge/Ulster)
7. John Hodnett (UCC/Munster)
8. Azur Allison (Ballymena/Ulster) *

Replacements from:

16. Declan Adamson (Clontarf/Leinster) *
17. Michael Milne (UCD/Leinster)
18. Charlie Ward (Clontarf/Leinster) *
19. John McKee (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
20. Ronan Watters (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
21. Niall Murray (Buccaneers/Connacht)
22. Thomas Ahern (Shannon/Munster) *
23. Ciaran Booth (Sale Sharks/IQ Rugby) *
24. Colm Reilly (Buccaneers/Connacht)
25. Cormac Foley (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
26. Ben Healy (Garryowen/Munster)
27. Sean French (Cork Constitution/Munster)
28. Rob Russell (Dublin University/Leinster)


15. Tom de Glanville (Bath Rugby)
14. Ollie Sleightholme (Northampton Saints)
13. Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints) – captain
12. Cameron Redpath (Sale Sharks)
11. Tom Seabrook (Gloucester Rugby)
10. Manu Vunipola (Saracens)
9. Ollie Fox (Bath Rugby)

1. Olly Adkins (Gloucester Rugby)
2. Nic Dolly (Sale Sharks)
3. Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers)
4. Joel Kpoku (Saracens)
5. Alex Coles (Northampton Saints)
6. Ted Hill (Worcester Warriors)
7. Aaron Hinkley (Gloucester Rugby)
8. Tom Willis (Wasps)

Replacements from:

16. Alfie Barbeary (Wasps) – Bloxham School
17. Kai Owen (Worcester Warriors)
18. Alfie Petch (Exeter Chiefs)
19. Will Capon (Bristol Bears)
20. James Kenny (Exeter Chiefs)
21. Richard Capstick (Exeter Chiefs)
22. Rusiate Tuima (Exeter Chiefs)
23. Josh Basham (Newcastle Falcons)
24. Sam Maunder (Exeter Chiefs)
25. Luke James (Sale Sharks)
26. Connor Doherty (Sale Sharks)
27. Arron Reed (Sale Sharks)
28. Josh Hodge (Newcastle Falcons)

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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