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Ireland U20s welcome Kernohan, Casey and Baird back into fold for Italy

Noel McNamara’s side are two wins from two in the Six Nations so far.

THE IRELAND U20S have been boosted by the returns of wing Angus Kernohan, scrum-half Craig Casey and second row Ryan Baird ahead of Friday’s Six Nations clash with Italy.

Noel McNamara’s team are two wins from two in the championship so far and will be looking to keep their momentum rolling in Rieti, just over an hour’s drive from Rome.

Angus Kernohan Kernohan has featured regularly for Ulster this season. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Having Kernohan, Casey and Baird available for selection swells the options for McNamara and his coaching team.

Exciting wing Kernohan hasn’t featured in this year’s Six Nations yet, having been sidelined with a hamstring issue before making his comeback with the Ulster senior squad in last weekend’s Guinness Pro14 win over the Ospreys. 

Kernohan played for the U20s last year and has racked up 13 senior appearances for Ulster this season, including two in the Champions Cup, meaning he adds real experience to the mix.

Shannon RFC man Casey started the U20s’ win at home to England in their championship opener but missed out on the visit to Scotland two weekends ago due to a knee issue.

St Mary’s halfback Cormac Foley, who scored a try off the bench versus England, started in Casey’s place for the victory over Scotland.

Baird, meanwhile, missed the opening two rounds of the championship due to a head injury but is now fit again and started Trinity’s 31-29 win over UCC in the AIL over the weekend, scoring a try in the victory for Tony Smeeth’s side.

The former St Michael’s College student now offers McNamara and co. another option in the second row, where Charlie Ryan and Niall Murray have excelled in the opening two rounds.

Ryan Baird tackled by Tom Murphy Ryan Baird in action for Trinity this season. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“Ryan is going to give us something that is going to be physical,” said Ireland U20s assistant coach Ambrose Conboy. “His athletic qualities are something that are wished for by most players.

“So he’s in a pretty good position to put himself in for selection. We’re looking forward to having him back in, we’re just up-skilling him again with a few changes in the lineout.

“Our scrum has gone pretty well as well so it’s just to make sure he is on point with those things as well.”

Kernohan’s return may result in greater Ulster involvement in the matchday 23 for Ireland, with back row David McCann having been the only one from the northern province involved on the pitch in the campaign so far.

However, injuries have deprived a number of talented Ulster players of opportunity, with Conboy confirming that number eight Azur Allison remains sidelined.

Midfielder Stewart Moore has been unlucky with a series of head injuries, while out-half Bruce Houston also picked up a knock in U20s training recently.

They remain out of the picture for now, but the U20s are enjoying having a settled feel to their squad as they face into round three of the Six Nations.

Craig Casey Craig Casey training against Ireland last week. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“The settled squad is really important for this group but it’s still about player development at this age level,” said Conboy. “It’s about getting all those guys as much exposure and game time as possible.

“When you look at the squad, I don’t think you could fault anyone from the England win. It was very difficult to change it within that and then Scotland game again would be another one that would be difficult to change again.

“It’s just a matter of getting as many guys on the pitch and testing them at this level and seeing if they can handle it. Credit to the boys – as a group, they are tremendously cohesive in what they have done so far.”

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Murray Kinsella

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