Murphy retains 26 players from Grand Slam success for U-20 World Cup duty

Ireland coach positive about the players’ condition as the squad prepare to head for Cape Town

Ireland under-20 head coach Richie Murphy has retained 26 players who were involved in the Six Nations Grand Slam success in a 30-man squad for the World Rugby Under-20 World Championship in Cape Town.

The tournament takes place from June 24th to July 14th during which Ireland will play three pool games and two crossover matches to determine their final finishing position.

The four uncapped players are Garryowen hooker Max Klein, Old Belvedere tighthead prop Ronan Foxe, Dublin University’s Dan Barron, who can play anywhere from second row to openside flanker, and Garryowen scrumhalf Jack Oliver. There is a 17-13 split in the squad with versatility a cherished attribute in terms of the backline. Liam Molony misses out through injury.

Murphy will be supported in his coaching team once again by Mark Sexton (backs coach) and forwards coach Aaron Dundon, while Andrew Browne joins as defence and lineout coach as Willie Faloon is unable to travel for personal reasons.

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Ireland play England, the team that they beat to clinch the Grand Slam in Musgrave Park, in the opening match of the tournament on Saturday, June 24th in Paarl before taking on an Australian squad that shared a recent series with New Zealand 1-1, and then Fiji in the final pool encounter.

Depending on results, Ireland will then play two crossover games with the ambition of trying to win a first ever World Championship, having twice been runners-up when losing to England, and when it was an under-21 tournament, against New Zealand in Glasgow.

The tournament will see the use of the World Rugby’s ‘TMO bunker,’ currently in use in Super Rugby, where a player sent to the sin bin will have his yellow card offence reviewed immediately with the possibility that it can be upgraded. The Gilbert smart rugby ball will be used, providing kicking and passing data but also indicating whether a pass has travelled forward.

Ireland had a four-day training camp in Italy last week, but most of the players have been lightly raced in terms of match minutes in recent times.

Murphy said: “The one thing that we told the guys when they left after the Six Nations is that they must come back better. And in fairness to all those guys, they’ve come back in really good condition, very hungry for that challenge that’s ahead of us.

“We’re very satisfied with what we saw after a number of weeks where they had a little bit of downtime in order to get back into their athletic development and then get back into playing some games for the clubs. One of the issues that we might have is that we haven’t played a huge amount of rugby over the last number of weeks.”

Compensation of sorts will come in the form of continuity among the group. Murphy admitted: “That’s a massive advantage. This time last year we were preparing for a summer series where we were missing 12 of our starting 15. So that [continuity in personnel terms] alone, built on the back of the connections and the relationships that were built in the Six Nations puts us in a really good place going forward.”

The head coach has no worries about carrying the tag of Grand Slam favourites to the southern hemisphere. He said: “I’d be more worried about looking at ourselves. We need to be our biggest critic in relation to how we get better and how we move our game forward.

“I think that has been the focus for us as coaches and as a team. How do we make sure that when we come back from the World Cup that we are in a better place than we were in the Six Nations? That’s been our focus. It hasn’t really been on what other teams say about us. It’s about looking at the weaknesses we showed in the Six Nations and tightening up those areas.

“Going to a World Cup, we know we can play rugby and we are tough to beat. It’s going to be a new experience. I think only four of our 30-man squad that is going there have been in South Africa, and only three have played down there.”

The Ireland squad leaves for Cape Town next Monday.

Ireland Under-20 squad

Forwards

George Hadden (Clontarf/Leinster), George Morris (Lansdowne/Leinster), Gus McCarthy (UCD/Leinster), Max Clein (Garryowen/Munster)*, Danny Sheahan (UCC/Munster), Paddy McCarthy (Dublin University/Leinster), Fiachna Barrett (Corinthians/Connacht), Ronan Foxe (Old Belvedere/Leinster)*, Conor O’Tighearnaigh (UCD/Leinster), Charlie Irvine (QUB/Ulster), Joe Hopes (QUB/Ulster), Diarmuid Mangan (UCD/Leinster), Evan O’Connell (UL Bohemian/Munster), James McNabney (Ballymena/Ulster), Ruadhan Quinn (Old Crescent/Munster), Brian Gleeson (Garryowen/Munster), Dan Barron (Dublin University/Leinster)*.

Backs

Fintan Gunne (Terenure/Leinster), Jack Oliver (Garryowen/Munster)*, Oscar Cawley (Naas/Leinster), Sam Prendergast (Lansdowne/Leinster), Matthew Lynch (Dublin University/Leinster), John Devine (Corinthians/Connacht), Hugh Cooney (Clontarf/Leinster), Hugh Gavin (Galwegians/Connacht), Andrew Osborne (Naas/Leinster), Rory Telfer (QUB University/Ulster), James Nicholson (UCD/Leinster), Henry McErlean (Terenure/Leinster), Harry West (Buccaneers/Connacht).

*Uncapped at U20s level

Fixtures

Saturday, June 24th: Ireland U20s v England U20s, Paarl Gymnasium, Paarl (12.30 Irish time)

Thursday, June 29th: Ireland U20s v Australia U20s, Paarl Gymnasium, Paarl (10.0 Irish time)

Tuesday, July 4th: Ireland U20s v Fiji U20s, Paarl Gymnasium, Paarl (12.30 Irish time)

Sunday, July 9th: Playoff match

Friday, July 14th: Playoff match.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer