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Ireland U20s affected by injury but welcome new faces for World Championship

Head coach Nigel Carolan says his side need to balance ‘risk versus reward’.

WITH GRAND SLAM winners Wales and reigning world champions New Zealand in their pool at this year’s World Rugby U20 Championship in Manchester, the Ireland U20s are going to have to cause an upset to compete at the top table.

Jacob Stockade, Bill Johnston and James Ryan Jacob Stockdale, Bill Johnston and James Ryan before yesterday's squad announcement. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Nigel Carolan’s side open their campaign on 7 June with a meeting against the Welsh, who beat them 35-24 in Donnybrook earlier this year, and then face the Baby Blacks, meaning their semi-final hopes could be over by the time they take on Georgia in the final pool fixture.

To make the task all the more demanding, Ireland have lost Connacht tighthead prop Conan O’Donnell to a foot injury, Ulster centre Sam Arnold with hamstring trouble, and Connacht lock Peter Claffey due to concussion.

Leinster fullback Jack Power and Munster front row have also been Shane Fenton ruled out.

O’Donnell and Arnold – both capped at senior provincial level – featured in this competition last year, so their absence shears Ireland of experience, while Claffey was impressive in the Six Nations.

Their absence does open the door for some new faces, with the uncapped Bill Johnston, Vakh Abdaladze, David Aspil, Vincent O’Brien and Evan Mintern all named in Carolan’s 28-man squad yesterday.

“Guys like Vakh Abdaladze, he is performing very well and he has with Clontarf all year,” said Carolan of the new faces. “They’ve been the club champions in 1A this year, so he’s bringing a bit of experience from that.

“David Aspil has been a part of our [extended] squad all season as well and he’s been performing really well with St. Mary’s and he’s had some exposure with Leinster A.”

Johnston will be of particular interest considering how highly-rated he is in Munster and certainly the backline would benefit from the 19-year-old providing strong game management skills.

“We welcome back Bill, who was injured during the Six Nations,” said Carolan. “Bill has had a bit of exposure with Munster so I think he brings that little bit of a football head and that experience, albeit for a young fella, it’s still invaluable at this age.”

Munster’s Bill Johnston Johnston played three times for Munster in pre-season last summer.

James Ryan, who was relentlessly excellent in the Six Nations, is captain again and will be relying on hooker Adam McBurney and loosehead Andrew Porter to complement him in leadership roles, given that they both played in last year’s tournament.

Ulster-capped back Jacob Stockdale, who looks like he may feature at fullback, is another returning face in this competition.

There is some quality there for Ireland and, despite the injuries, Carolan is excited.

“Not having five key guys available, guys who have had international experience, it certainly challenges your strength in depth,” said Carolan yesterday. “The five new caps who have been included have other qualities which we’re really excited about.

“It just shows the strength in depth that is there and there were some difficult conversations on Friday with some of the guys who haven’t made the squad. We’d very much welcome some of them if and when they are called on as standby players.

“We finished the Six Nations on a little bit of a high, I think we grew as a team. I think there was still room for improvement and the lads have been working very hard on that.

“I think if we can take that momentum into that first game – and we’ve very much targeted Wales as the big game because if we can get across the line in that one you have the world champions in the second game and I think it’d be the first Irish team that’s beaten the All Blacks. It’s a massive, massive task but a huge opportunity for us.”

Ireland began this year’s Six Nations poorly, with defeats to Wales and France, but the memorable comeback win away to England started a morale-boosting run of three victories to secure third position.

James Ryan Ryan was brilliant for Ireland in the U20 Six Nations. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

The likes of Brett Connon, John Poland and Dan Walsh miss out on involvement for the World Championship next month after being involved during the Six Nations, but Carolan expects those who have been retained to learn from the experience.

A particular focus will be ensuring their expansive game plan does not have to mean repeated errors that allow the opposition easy access.

“I think we’ve worked very hard and the players have worked physically in their provinces,” said Carolan. “We went into the Six Nations and I thought we were a physical side but I think what we came up against, particularly against Wales in the first game, there are no easy games.

“It’s a tough environment and it’s one where you have to learn pretty quick. While we played an ambitious type of game, I think mistakes proved to be very costly.

“Any time we made mistakes, the consequences were quite high. We have to figure out the risk versus reward and how we can minimise the risk but still enable us to play a high-tempo game.”

Ireland U20 squad for World Rugby U20 Championship 2016:

Forwards (16):

Andrew Porter (UCD / Leinster)
James Bollard (DUFC / Leinster)
Vakh Abdaladze (Clontarf / Leinster)*
Adam McBurney (Ballymena / Ulster)
Vincent O’Brien (Cork Con / Munster)*
Conor Kenny (Buccaneers / Connacht)
Benn Betts (Young Munster / Munster)
Cillian Gallagher (Sligo / Connacht)
James Ryan (Lansdowne / Leinster) (captain)
Sean O’Connor (Cashel / Munster)
Evan Mintern (Cork Con / Munster)*
Greg Jones (UCD / Leinster)
Will Connors (UCD / Leinster)
Max Deegan (Lansdowne / Leinster)
Kelvin Brown (Shannon / Munster)
David Aspil (St. Mary’s / Leinster)*

Backs (12):

Stephen Kerins (Sligo / Connacht)
Niall Saunders (Epsom College/ Exiles)
Bill Johnston (Garryowen / Munster)*
Johnny McPhillips (QUB / Ulster)
Conor O’Brien (Clontarf / Leinster)
Shane Daly (Cork Con / Munster)
Jimmy O’Brien (UCD / Leinster
Paul Kiernan (UCC / Munster)
Jacob Stockdale (Belfast Harlequins / Ulster)
Terry Kennedy (St. Mary’s / Leinster)
Hugo Keenan (UCD / Leinster)
Matthew Byrne (Terenure / Leinster)

*Denotes uncapped player at U20 level

Not considered due to injury:

Conan O’Donnell (Sligo / Connacht)
Shane Fenton (Young Munster / Munster)
Peter Claffey (Galwegians / Connacht)
Sam Arnold (Ballynahinch / Ulster)
Jack Power (UCD / Leinster)

Ireland U20 fixtures:

Wales v Ireland
Manchester City Academy Stadium
Tuesday 7 June [5.30pm]

New Zealand v Ireland
Manchester City Academy Stadium
Saturday 11 June [1.30pm]

Ireland v Georgia
Manchester City Academy Stadium
Wednesday 15 June [5.30pm]

Semi-Finals
Manchester City Academy Stadium or AJ Bell Stadium, Salford
Monday 20 June

Play-offs
Manchester City Academy Stadium or AJ Bell Stadium, Salford
Saturday 25 June

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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