Rugby: Ireland U20 vs. England U20 Preview

Intriguing opening fixture for Ireland

Irish Independent Park (Cork) plays host to Ireland U20’s opening fixture, a daunting fixture on paper against an England U20 side who contested the 2018 U20 World Cup final against France. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the team selections.

What time is kickoff?

The game is on Friday, Feb 1st with a 7:15pm kickoff time. If you cannot get to the fixture, the game is live on RTE 2.

Form Guide:

After a disappointing campaign last season, Ireland head coach Noel McNamara will look for an upturn in fortunes for his charges. It was a challenging season last year for the side who struggled for cohesion.

There was a third place finish in the 6 Nations tournament but the U20 World Cup was a complete disappointment. A win against Japan prevented Ireland from been relegated from the U20 World Cup tournament.

England U20 were competitive last season. They finished second to France in the 6 Nations tournament; a road trip loss to Scotland was a pivotal result in their campaign. Their encounter against France was incredibly abrasive and physical. Players taking out at regular intervals with minimal intervention from match officials. A strong U20 World Cup campaign for England saw a final appearance but this time France avenged their 6 Nations loss with a 33-25 win.

Team News:  Ireland

Ireland’s side has potential to impress. Scott Penny has been a standout for Leinster Rugby senior team this season when given his cameo. The back row player will be ably assisted by John Hodnett (UCC / Munster Rugby) and Martin Moloney (Old Belvedre / Leinster Rugby).

Josh Wycherley (Young Munster/Munster), Dylan Tierney Martin (Corinthians/Connacht) and Charlie Ryan (UCD/Leinster) need to execute at set piece to provide a platform for an exciting half-back pairing for Harry Byrne (Lansdowne/Leinster) and Craig Casey (Shannon/Munster) who will look to launch their captain David Hawkshaw (Clontarf/Leinster) in the three quarters.

The Cork crowd who will attend this fixture will see plenty of county talent in full view. Josh Wycherley (Bandon), John Hodnett (Rosscarbery) and Jonathan Wren (Cork Constitution / Munster Rugby) will start and exciting Sean French (Cork Constitution / Munster Rugby) to make an impact off the bench. The home crowd will be fully behind the side.

Team News:  England

England’s side named is loaded with experience at this age level. The big news from their team selection today is the inclusion of three key players. Marcus Smith starts in the ten jersey, a player who has the full array of skill set to test out this promising Ireland U20 side.

Ted Hill (Worcester Warriors) is well regarded by Eddie Jones so much so that the player got his senior debut against Japan last November. Marcus Street starts his third U20 campaign, vastly experienced and his set piece has been consistently good.

Players to Watch: The Ten Jersey

The battle of the ten’s will be intriguing. Harry Byrne (brother of Ross Byrne) is a player with massive potential and upside. He will require the Ireland pack to set the platform but has an excellent kicking game and his ability to launch his runners at the right time was seen last season.

Marcus Smith is a player who potentially is a dark horse for England RWC 2019 inclusion. His dynamism with ball in hand is to the fore; he will look to engage defenders in order to create gain line breaks for colleagues. The kicking game is good (can be improved upon) but it is his flair with ball in hand which will be highlighted in this fixture.

Verdict: England

Out of the England side who lined out against France in the U20 World Cup final last year, nine players start on Friday night. This experience speaks volumes at this level of competition; the cohesion and understanding between these players gives England the edge in this fixture. Noel McNamara’s charges will do well to get anything out of this encounter. England look too slick, too experienced for an ambitious Ireland side. Cohesion issues to start the tournament but England have the experience and understanding to secure this win with a potential BP at the death.