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Laszlo Geczo/INPHO Ireland's Nathan Doak.
# The Future
Promising Ireland U20s squad can end Six Nations campaign on a high
Richie Murphy’s side take on France in Cardiff today.

A SIX NATIONS title looks unlikely for the Ireland U20s today, but there is still much to be positive about following an encouraging few weeks for Richie Murphy’s squad.

To win the U20 Six Nations, Ireland need England to lose to Italy [KO 1.45pm] by more than seven points without scoring four tries, and then record a bonus point win with a clear victory margin of 30 points or more when they take on France [KO 4.45pm, RTÉ 2]. 

So don’t tune in today expecting to see Ireland land some silverware, but do tune in if you want to see some exciting, attacking rugby, with Ireland providing plenty of entertainment across the previous four rounds of action in Cardiff.

This is an exciting group of players, and head coach Murphy clearly has a lot of faith in his young squad. 

Keen to make sure everyone in the group gets some valuable experience under their belts – and that, of course, is the whole point of playing 20s rugby – Murphy hasn’t been shy to shake things up between games.

On the back of the round three defeat to England – Ireland’s first loss in 11 outings at this grade – he made nine changes to his team for last week’s game against Italy.

And after a shaky start against the Italians – Ireland falling 11 points behind by half-time – he saw his young squad regroup, regather, and take control of the fixture, pulling clear once their opponents were reduced to 14 men. 

Given the high turnover of personnel from the England game, it was arguably Ireland’s most encouraging performance of the championship, and will serve as a valuable experience for the group on the back of one-sided wins over Scotland and Wales.

Murphy has taken a similar approach for today’s game, making seven changes to the starting 15, testing some new combinations while retaining the pillars of his team.

Alex Kendellen, who has been an inspirational leader for Ireland in the tournament, makes his fifth start but reverts to number eight after shifting to openside against Italy. His all-action, two-try performance last week once again underlined his massive potential, leading the charge as Ireland slowly began to turn the tide.

Elsewhere, the versatile Alex Soroka – who has moved effortlessly between the second row and back row – has also brought power and aggression to everything he does, while also helping ensure the Ireland lineout operates smoothly.

Last week’s second row pairing of Mark Morrissey and Harry Sheridan continue their partnership while tighthead Sam Illo, who provided some classy carries against Italy, also keeps his place in the front row. 

Leinster’s Jamie Osborne wears the 15 shirt again and Ulster wing Ben Moxham comes back onto the wing, with both of those players hoping to kick-on again in the new season after gaining Pro14 experience with their respective provinces this year.

Connacht’s Cathal Forde gets his chance to impress from the start after making a huge impact off the bench last week, while the most interesting call sees Nathan Doak line out at out-half.

Doak has been excellent in the nine shirt for Ireland but moves to 10 as Conor McKee comes back into the starting team for the first time since the opening round win over Scotland.

Given Doak’s performances at scrum-half, it will be interesting to see how that all-Ulster half-back partnership works, and whether Doak can bring the same level of influence to the 10 shirt.

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The way in which Ireland responded to a difficult first half against Italy will have been hugely pleasing for Murphy, and today offers a great opportunity to sign off on another positive championship on a high.

Regardless of England’s result, expect Ireland to be sent out with a license to play, as that is when they have looked at their best in this championship, and while there probably won’t be a title to celebrate, the fact that Murphy is helping this young, confident group back their skills is enough to view this campaign done as a job well done.

IRELAND U20s: Jamie Osborne; Ben Moxham, Jude Postlethwaite, Cathal Forde, Shane Jennings; Nathan Doak, Conor McKee; Temi Lasisi, Ronan Loughnane, Sam Illo; Mark Morrissey, Harry Sheridan; Alex Soroka, Oisin McCormack, Alex Kendellen.

Replacements: Eoin de Buitléar, George Saunderson, Liam Bishop, Jack Kelleher, Reuben Crothers, Will Reilly, Ben Carson, Chris Cosgrove, Fearghail O Donoghue, Donnacha Byrne, Chay Mullins.

FRANCE U20s: Alexandre Tchaptchet; Louis Bielle Biarrey, Emilien Gailleton, Leo Barre, Nelson Epee; Thibault Debaes, Nolann Le Garrec (captain); Teo Bordenave, Victor Montgaillard, Paul Mallez; Thomas Ployet, Adrien Warion; Pierre Bochaton, Matthias Haddad Victor, Kylian Tixeront.

Replacements: Daniel Bibi Biziwu, Benjamin Boudou, Henzo Kiteau, Romain Macurdy, Matteo Le Corvec, Maxime Baudonne, Theo Ntamack, Theo Idjellidaine, Edgar Retiere, Alfred Parisien, Matteo Garcia.

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