I must admit that when the Ireland U20’s squad for the 2017 World Rugby U20 Championship in Georgia was announced last week I was a little disappointed.
The squad was missing the exciting Ulster duo of Rob Lyttle and Johnny McPhillips as well as other key players in Bill Johnston, Cillian Gallagher, Jordan Larmour and Tommy O’Brien. These six accounted for around 20% of the game time in the last Six Nations. McPhillips, Johnston and Gallagher added buckets of experience having been involved in last year’s tournament and Larmour and O’Brien were among the leading try scorers in the last Six Nations.
The coaching ticket had also changed during the Six Nations with “FRU Favourite” Nigel Carolan being called into the Connacht senior team. We’d really enjoyed Carolan’s time in charge, particularly last season’s U20 Championship in manchester where they finished second. However, last years forwards coach, Peter Malone, has stepped up and he’s scored extra points with The FRU by calling on Kieran Campbell, from the Ireland U19 set up, to assist with the backs.
Having now spent some time with the squad, in Birr on Friday morning, I must say that I am somewhat re-invigorated with the selection which has seen those experienced players replaced by rising stars from Campbell’s U19 set up.
The changes to the squad probably favour the four Ulster players included so we should be seeing plenty of game time from Jonny Stewart, Peter Cooper, Marcus Rea and Angus Curtis.
Curtis, who moved to Belfast from Zimbabwe in December 2016, is the son of David Curtis who clocked up 13 Ireland caps in 1991 – 92, including the 1991 World Cup. The youngster is now the front-runner to partner, fellow Queens player, Jonny Stewart at half back.
Stewart dominated the scrum-half berth during the Six Nations, starting all five games, though he will be pushed by Munster’s Jack Stafford, who had an impressive final twenty minutes against England in the last game of the Six Nations. I suspect that the management team will go with the provincial half back pairings of Ulster’s Stewart and Curtis and Munster’s Stafford and Alan Tynan with the Ulster pairing in prime position.
We had a bit of a sweat on for Peter Cooper who started the Six Nations, at tighthead, before getting injured first match out. Leinster’s Charlie Connolly proceeded to start the remainder of the games and is now in prime position. However, Cooper has been out for a shoulder operation and is back to full fitness. As the only other specialist tighthead in the squad, he should see plenty of game time in this exceptionally attritional tournament.
With the experienced Gallagher ruled out, the door is now open for Rea to push for a starting spot in the highly competitive back row. Leinster’s Paul Boyle and Caelan Doris look to have the openside and No. 8 positions wrapped up leaving Rea to compete, primarily, with Munster’s Gavin Coombes for the blindside berth.
Again, the attrition of this tournament should see all six of the back row players getting plenty of game time with Munster’s John Foley and Connacht’s Sean Masterson also coming into the mix. Leinster’s Jack Regan has also played No. 6 but we see him as a second row.
Interestingly Rea was playing at No. 8 in the practice scrums that we watched on Friday so his versatility may get him the nod for a bench spot in those big games!
You can view all the relevant positions for all the squad below together with the number of starts and minutes played in the 2017 U20’s Six Nations, where appropriate.
Ireland U20 Player Stats
|Loosehead||Joey Conway||30 Oct 1997||19||Munster||5||392|
|Loosehead||Greg McGrath||20 Jan 1997||20||Leinster||2||3|
|Loosehead||Jordan Duggan||7 Jan 1998||19||Leinster|
|Hooker||Tadgh McElroy||16 Jun 1997||19||Leinster||5||307|
|Hooker||Ronan Kelleher||24 Jan 1998||19||Leinster||3||76|
|Tighthead||Charlie Connolly||23 Oct 1997||19||Leinster||5||286|
|Tighthead||Peter Cooper||22 Jan 1997||20||Ulster||2||77|
|Second Row||Fineen Wycherley||11 Dec 1997||19||Munster||4||305|
|Second Row||Oisin Dowling||23 Jun 1997||19||Leinster||5||294|
|Second Row||Jack Regan||9 May 1997||20||Leinster||5||126|
|Back Row||Paul Boyle||14 Jan 1997||20||Leinster||5||400|
|Back Row||Caelan Doris||2 Apr 1998||19||Leinster||5||395|
|Back Row||Gavin Coombes||11 Dec 1997||19||Munster||4||152|
|Back Row||Marcus Rea||8 Sep 1997||19||Ulster||3||101|
|Back Row||John Foley||3 Apr 1997||20||Munster||1||62|
|Back Row||Sean Masterson||27 Jan 1998||19||Connacht||1||8|
|Scrum Half||Jonny Stewart||20 Feb 1998||19||Ulster||5||366|
|Scrum Half||Jack Stafford||11 Jul 1997||19||Munster||2||20|
|Out Half||Angus Curtis||26 Mar 1998||19||Ulster|
|Out Half||Alan Tynan||9 Jul 1997||19||Munster|
|Centre||Ciaran Frawley||4 Dec 1997||19||Leinster||5||396|
|Centre||Gavin Mullin||29 Nov 1997||19||Leinster||3||240|
|Centre||Conor Dean||27 Jan 1998||19||Leinster|
|Centre||David McCarthy||13 Apr 1998||19||Munster|
|Back Three||Calvin Nash||8 Aug 1997||19||Munster||4||198|
|Back Three||Colm Hogan||14 Jan 1997||20||Munster||4||191|
|Back Three||Jack Kelly||26 Oct 1997||19||Leinster||2||113|
|Back Three||Michael Sylvester||4 Jun 1998||18||Leinster|
The Ireland squad head for Georgia on Thursday 25th May with the tournament kicking off the following week on Wednesday 31st May. Ireland are top seeds in Pool B and they are joined by Italy, Scotland and New Zealand. Fixtures and UK/Ireland kick off times shown below:
Ireland U20’s Pool B Fixtures.
- WED MAY 31 2017: IRELAND v ITALY, 12:30 UK/IRE.
AIA Arena, Kutaisi, Georgia.
- SUN JUN 4 2017: IRELAND v SCOTLAND, 10:00 UK/IRE.
AIA Arena, Kutaisi, Georgia.
- THU JUN 8 2017: IRELAND v NEW ZEALAND, 12:30 UK/IRE. AIA Arena, Kutaisi, Georgia.