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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 23 October, 2019
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'For these guys to get the opportunity to play against the All Blacks is massive'

Ireland U20 head coach Nigel Carolan is gearing his side up for the World Championship

WHILE IRELAND’S TOUR of South Africa, England’s trip to Australia and Wales’ demanding schedule in New Zealand will hog more of the headlines, some of the most enjoyable rugby of the next month will be played in Manchester.

The World Rugby U20 Championship, formerly known as the Junior World Championship, gets underway on Tuesday at Manchester City Academy Stadium and AJ Bell Stadium.

James Ryan, Jacob Stockade and Bill Johnston James Ryan, Jacob Stockdale and Bill Johnston of the Ireland U20s. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Ireland’s tournament opener on Tuesday [KO 4.30pm, TG4] pits them against this year’s Grand Slam champions Wales, who beat Nigel Carolan’s men at Donnybrook during the Six Nations.

Four days later, Ireland must front up against New Zealand – the reigning world champions at this level.

“I think for any of these young guys to get the opportunity to play against the All Blacks is massive,” says Carolan. “That’s the one they’ll all want to play.

“But at the moment, all of our focus is on Wales. As a first game, we felt they were a team we could have taken in the Six Nations.

“If we had minimised the risk and some of the mistakes, we would have been a lot closer. I thought we gifted them a lot of opportunities and they took them.

“It probably swayed the balance. It looked like we were beaten by a lot in the end but I thought for vast periods of that game we were on top and played some really good stuff.

“The challenge for us is to get off to a really good start and make sure that we at least have parity and take all of our chances. Whatever happens in that Wales game, we’ll look after New Zealand then when we get there but it’ll certainly be an easy game for the lads to get up for.”

Ireland’s third pool fixture pits them against the ever-improving Georgia on 15 June, ensuring a tough schedule in the group stages.

Having lost a handful of potentially key players to injury, including Conan O’Donnell and Sam Arnold, Carolan is aware that Ireland are up against the odds but he believes that out-half Bill Johnston is a good addition to the group.

Nigel Carolan Carolan and Ireland finished third in the Six Nations. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The former Rockwell College man played three pre-season games for Munster last summer but a shoulder injury ruled him out of the U20 Six Nations.

Still a year young for this age grade, the Clonmel man will now compete with Ulster’s Johnny McPhillips for the 10 shirt. Johnston started there for the Ireland U20s’ warm-up game against a Munster Development side last month.

“Bill is very much confident in himself,” says Carolan. “He’s a guy that’s very comfortable in challenging the system and offering up his own opinion. He’s got some really strong opinions.

“He has shown us that he’s very comfortable at this level. He certainly has great potential as a young player.”

As for the returning players like captain and lock James Ryan, Carolan believes they can bring some of the winning momentum from their Six Nations campaign into this tournament.

Having lost to Wales and France in their two opening Six Nations fixtures, the Ireland U20s beat England, Italy and Scotland to finish third.

“The pace, the intensity was huge,” said Carolan.

“Collectively to get used to that, it takes time to adapt. I think that’s what happened during the Six Nations; we just stared to adapt to it. That’s the momentum we’d like to take into the Junior World Cup now.”

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Murray Kinsella

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