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McNamara hails club gems as he backs Ireland U20 to adapt in Argentina

The Grand Slam-winning coach hopes to see another Tullow Tank make his mark in this year’s World Rugby U20 World Championship.

THE ABSENCE OF a few big names, just means a chance for others to make themselves known.

U20 Grand Slam-winning coach Noel McNamara will have think his way through a teak tough pool at next month’s junior ‘World Cup’ (its given name, the World Rugby U20 Championship is something of a mouthful) without the influence and star power of out-half Harry Byrne, openside Scott Penny and captain David Hawkshaw.

However, this group have been nothing if not adaptive through this year’s exploits and they completed the Grand Slam without Byrne or Hawkshaw in the back-line as Ben Healy and Sean French instead formed the 10-12 axis.

Penny’s absence will bring a space to fill in the back row, with Martin Moloney a leading contender to move across from the blindside and fill the 7 jersey.

“That’s part of sport unfortunately,” McNamara said after unveiling a 33-man training squad at sponsors PWC yesterday.

“The reality is that part of this process is so that guys can go on and contribute provincial and international rugby and, in fairness to Scott and Harry, they have done that.

“Obviously the initial reaction is that it is disappointing for them because it is an opportunity on a big stage to show what they can do. Then you look at the opportunity it will be for someone else.”

With four-day turnarounds between pool matches, beginning with England on 4 June in Santa Fe, the ability to rotate and rapidly embed players into the team systems will prove telling in the shake-up.

“I think one of the things about the team throughout the course of this season and previous seasons is: it is a team.

It has been about the collective and not one individual. Whilst we recognise the importance of certain players, I think there are players there who will step up.

“You mention some of them there, there are some really consistent performers throughout the course of the Six Nations who are absolutely chomping at the bit and ready to do.”

Ryan Baird tackled by Tom Murphy Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Among them will be second row Ryan Baird, who was kept to impact roles against France and Wales after struggling with injury early in the Six Nations. Ulster’s Azur Allison and Stewart Moore were among the men in McNamara’s Championship thoughts back in January, but were kept sidelined by injury throughout and so they are among six uncapped players in the training group before the trans-Atlantic trip.

On top of them, McNamara hailed the standard of rugby being played in the All-Ireland League as he welcomed Clontarf hooker Declan Adamson, Terenure’s Adam La Grue and, from a little further down the club structure, Tullow’s Charlie Ward.

“Another man from Tullow, just as one leaves us another arrives. Hopefully, Charlie can have a similar impact to the previous Tullow Tank,” McNamara says with a broad grin.

“Declan Adamson has just had a really good year. I’m at pains to point out the importance of the AIL to the U20s.

Declan Adamson Declan Adamson in action during Clontarf's AIL final loss to Cork Con Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“Declan has had a tremendous year with Clontarf where they went all the way to the final. Paddy Finlay was their starting hooker, but missed large chunks of the season.   Declan stepped in and did really well for them.”

“Adam La Grue the same. Terenure initially had a very tough year and then it looked like if they could get into the play-offs towards the end of it, they could have actually gone on and won it.

“Adam has had a tremendous year with Terenure, been one of their top performers, scoring tries, defensively very solid.  He’s got an opportunity on the back of that.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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