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Ireland not to be written off as they put injury toll behind them

Ireland begin their Junior World Championship campaign tomorrow but as many seven key players will watch it from the sofa.

Tommy O'Brien, Jordan Larmour and Rob Lyttle are all unavailable.
Tommy O'Brien, Jordan Larmour and Rob Lyttle are all unavailable.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THE VERY NATURE of age grade rugby means player turnover is inevitable from campaign to campaign, but Ireland head into the Junior World Championship having been severely disrupted by injuries to key personnel.

When Peter Malone, the interim head coach, took over the reins after Nigel Carolan was drafted into the Connacht set-up, he could hardly have envisaged his resources for this summer’s tournament would have been decimated to such an extent.

While the 28-man squad has got an experienced core to it, there are five new faces at this age level — all of whom are U19 — included while Diarmuid Barron, an eleventh hour replacement for hooker Tadhg McElroy, is drafted straight in for Wednesday’s opening clash with Italy.

It all means Ireland head into the tournament with a weakened hand as the XV for tomorrow’s game shows five changes in personnel to the one which finished the Six Nations campaign just two months ago.

On the face of it, five changes is not hugely significant, particularly at underage level, but when you consider the stature of the players unavailable and the influence they have had, it’s widely-acknowledged that Ireland’s firepower has been hit.

The loss of Cillian Gallagher, Rob Lyttle, Bill Johnston, Jordan Larmour, Johnny McPhillips and Tommy O’Brien through injury are all significant in their own right, while McElroy’s late exclusion because of an impending move to Saracens has stripped Malone of another explosive player.

Gallagher’s unavailability won’t be considered a major issue given his Six Nations was disrupted by injury but the loss of Larmour, in particular, is disappointing given his outstanding form in the backline during the championship.

Peter Malone Ireland coach Peter Malone at yesterday's pre-tournament press conference. Source: Achi Gegenava/INPHO

Larmour, one of the standout performers from the U20 Six Nations campaign, sustained an ankle injury in St Mary’s College’s league clash with Cork Constitution earlier this month and was forced to undergo surgery.

His telling contributions both on the wing and in the fullback position saw him emerge as arguably Ireland’s most influential and destructive player of the tournament and his unavailability is a major blow for Malone’s side.

Furthermore, the confirmed loss of UCD centre O’Brien, who damaged his hamstring in a club game, and Munster outhalf Johnston further reduces the backline options available to Malone.

Of course, injuries open the door for others to stake their claim for selection and make a name for themselves, something Malone was keen to stress at the squad announcement, but at the same time the loss of key individuals for a big tournament is far from ideal.

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“No it doesn’t really put a dampener,” Malone insisted, when asked about the injuries which have ravaged his squad.

“We knew that they would be missing from a fair way out and we planned for it. We had two trial games and a wide variety of players. The squad that’s going, players are selfish beings, they won’t really care about the guys that are missing. They just want to make their own stamp and take their opportunity.”

Malone’s squad gathered for a couple of training days last week and included in itinerary were team building sessions away from the rugby pitch and tactics board; some of these players will not have played with each other before this tournament.

Paul Boyle Ireland will be captained by Paul Boyle. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Two of the uncapped players, Conor Dean and Ulster’s Angus Curtis, are the two out-halves with Johnston and McPhillips both sidelined although there is some continuity with the likes of Gavin Mullin, Calvin Nash, Fineen Wycherley and captain Paul Boyle bringing big-game experience.

“For the younger guys coming in, especially the U19s, out-halves Angus Curtis and Conor Dean, they have the belief to go out and give this thing a crack, really own it and take their chance,” Malone added.

“Injuries are part and parcel of professional sport as a player and coach. The players who are injured have to deal with it, they’ll manage it and get back. The guys who are stepping in, they’ve have to take the opportunity because in rugby that’s where opportunity comes from that injury that opens the door for you.”

It will certainly be a baptism of fire for many of Ireland’s squad over the next fortnight in Georgia with stiff assignments against Italy, New Zealand and Scotland to come and certainly it would be a fine achievement if they were to replicate the success of 12 months ago.

But that doesn’t mean this young squad should be written off by any means.

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Late addition Barron straight into Ireland side to face Italy in U20 championship opener

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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