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Dublin: 9°C Tuesday 13 April 2021
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'We’re keen on playing with pace and moving England around as much as we possibly can'

Cork plays host to Ireland’s next generation against the might of England tonight.

IRISH RUGBY HASN’T been in much better state than this.

The reigning Grand Slam champions seem in a mood to go again, the world number one slot is within reach, all four provinces are in the knockout stages of Europe and the presence of two of them in a quarter-final brought about a rapid Aviva Stadium sell-out yesterday.

And yet, at least one constant of the old rugby order remains. While England’s senior side arrived Dublin last night as a team deserving immense respect, there is no logic to fear them. But at age grade, they remain an irresistible force.

England’s U20s have romped to win six of the last 11 Six Nations titles and have made the World Rugby U20 Championship final nine times in the same period. Whatever the peaks and troughs of the senior side, there is no denying the efficiency of the production line up until the age of 20.

Among the current crop in Cork, blindside Ted Hill is already a senior international, replacement Cameron Redpath was called to tour with Eddie Jones’ squad last summer only to be hit by injury while out-half Marcus Smith was grabbing attention in Champions Cup rugby last season.

Players huddle during the training Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

So the on-paper version of England U20 promises as tough a task as ever for Noel McNamara’s boys when they get their campaign under way in Musgrave Park tonight (kick-off 19.15).

That said, there is always space for a positive approach, hope.

And a ‘dream’ is precisely how the Cork contingent in this squad view the opportunity to run out for international honours on Leeside.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s a dream come true. You always look forward to these moments when you’re a young fella coming up,” says loosehead Josh Wycherley.

“It’s a new 4G and it’s a brilliant park. Hopefully there’ll be a good crowd out for it. It’s exciting.”

Wycherley will be at the coal-face of Ireland’s efforts to  stunt England in the Rebel county. But he and his pack will be acutely aware of the wider aim to not get drawn into an arm-wrestle. Instead using that lightning quick 4G surface to keep the young Saxons from settling.

“We’re keen on playing with pace, and moving England around as much as we possibly can,” said head coach Noel McNamara.

In Wycherley, he has dynamic prop – with history as a full forward in hurling and Gaelic Football for St Colum’s in Bantry – who will hope to deliver that sort of destructive mobility to counteract a world leader of U20 rugby. First and foremost, though, comes set-piece.

Josh Wycherley Josh Wycherley on the run in training. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“England are always like that,” adds Wycherley, younger brother of Munster lock Fineen, “they’re big fellas, they’re going to try and bully you up front all the time. As a pack, really, we just try and nail down our detail at scrum time and we just try and win the height battle.

“Just keep our connections together and go as eight. We just try to stay together and keep our feet on the ground, and get go-forward. Against a bigger pack, you’re not always going to make those yards, but as long as you can get good ball for the backs to play, it’s a good turnout.”

Creating that platform would go a long way towards victory for Ireland tonight, Leinster flanker Scott Penny’s influence will be crucial in that regard and he will hope his efforts create space for provincial team-mates in the 10-12 axis – Harry Byrne and David Hawkshaw – to put their passing and playmaking skill to use.

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John Hodnett John Hodnett rises to collect a kick. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“I think for us it’s about utilising that cohesion,” says McNamara ahead of his second Six Nations campaign, “utilising the fact that we’re at home with a home crowd. Looking to start fast and putting them under pressure.

“Trying to take them to a place where they’re uncomfortable. Not playing the game on their terms.”

Achieve that, and Irish rugby will plant another big step in a forward direction.

Ireland U20

15. Jake Flannery (Shannon/Munster)
14. Conor Phillips (Young Munster/Munster)
13. Liam Turner (Dublin University/Leinster)
12. David Hawkshaw (Clontarf/Leinster) (capt)
11. Jonathan Wren (Cork Constitution/Munster)
10. Harry Byrne (Lansdowne/Leinster)
9. Craig Casey (Shannon/Munster)

1. Josh Wycherley (Young Munster/Munster)
2. Dylan Tierney Martin (Corinthians/Connacht)
3. Thomas Clarkson (Dublin University/Leinster)
4. Charlie Ryan (UCD/Leinster)
5. Niall Murray (Buccaneers/Connacht)
6. Martin Moloney (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
7. Scott Penny (UCD/Leinster)
8. John Hodnett (UCC/Munster)

Replacements

16. John McKee (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
17. Michael Milne (UCD/Leinster)
18. Ryan Lomas (Galwegians/Connacht)
19. Brian Deeny (Clontarf/Leinster)
20. David McCann (Banbridge/Ulster)
21. Cormac Foley (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
22. Sean French (Cork Constitution/Munster)
23. Rob Russell (Dublin University/Leinster)

England U20

15. Josh Hodge (Newcastle Falcons)
14. Ollie Sleightholme (Northampton Saints)
13. Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints) Captain
12. Tom Hardwick (Leicester Tigers)
11. Cadan Murley (Harlequins)
10. Marcus Smith (Harlequins)
9. Sam Maunder (Exeter Chiefs)

1. Olly Adkins (Gloucester)
2. Nic Dolly (Sale Sharks)
3. Marcus Street (Exeter Chiefs)
4. Joel Kpoku (Saracens)
5. Alex Coles (Northampton Saints)
6. Ted Hill (Worcester Warriors)
7. Aaron Hinkley (Gloucester)
8. Tom Willis (Wasps)

Replacements:

16. Ben Atkins (London Irish)
17. Bevan Rodd (Sale Sharks)
18. Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers)
19. James Scott (Worcester Warriors)
20. Rusiate Tuima (Exeter Chiefs)
21. Ollie Fox (Yorkshire Carnegie)
22. Cameron Redpath (Sale Sharks)
23. Ollie Lawrence (Worcester Warriors)

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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