Wales U20 are looking to get their U20 Six Nations campaign back on track this weekend with a trip to face Ireland U20 at Irish Independent Park on Friday, 7.15pm kick-off.
It was a tough opening game for Gareth Williams’ men against Italy U20 in Colwyn Bay last weekend, with a 7-17 loss at a windy Parc Eirias leaving them playing catch up for the rest of the tournament and needing a big turnaround in performance levels.
Questions have been asked of how the U20s are prepared in terms of playing senior rugby at Celtic Cup or Indigo Group Premiership level, but Williams has insisted the performance was just below par and things would improve this week.
His side can take confidence from Wales’ recent record in Ireland at this level, with the U20s having won the last three trips across the Irish Sea, the most recent in 2018 coming courtesy of a 38-41 scoreline thanks to tries from Max Williams, Tommy Reffell, Tom Rogers, Callum Carson and a brace from James Botham.
All-in-all Wales have won six of the last seven meetings between the sides, but the loss came last season when tries from Aneurin Owen and Jac Morgan weren’t enough to prevent a 17-26 loss in Colwyn Bay and hand the opposition a Grand Slam, and Ireland are on the back of a win of their own in round one.
Tries from Thomas Clarkson, Andrew Smith, Thomas Ahern and John McKee, as well as 18 points from fly-half Jack Crowley, including a brace of tries, resulted in a 38-26 win over Scotland U20 as they kicked their campaign off in style.
On the back of that, head coach Noel McNamara has opted for just two changes to his starting XV. One of them is an injury switch as Ben Moxham replaces Ethan McIlroy on the wing, while the other is tactical as Marcus Hannan starts at loosehead with Harry Noonan dropping to the bench.
Ireland U20: Oran McNulty (Millfield School/Galway Corinthians RFC/Connacht), Ben Moxham (Larne High School/Ballymena RFC/Ulster), Dan Kelly (Kirkham Grammar/Loughborough University/IQ Rugby), Hayden Hyde (Cranleigh School/Ballynahinch RFC/Ulster), Andrew Smith (St. Michael’s College/Clontarf FC/Leinster), Jack Crowley (Bandon RFC/Cork Constitution FC/Munster), Lewis Finlay (Down High School/Malone RFC/Ulster), Marcus Hannan (Clane RFC/Old Belvedere RFC/Leinster), Tom Stewart (Belfast Royal Academy/Ballynahinch RFC/Ulster), Thomas Clarkson (Blackrock College/Dublin University FC/Leinster), Thomas Ahern (Waterpark RFC/Shannon RFC/Munster), Brian Deeny (Wexford Wanderers RFC/Clontarf FC/Leinster), Sean O’Brien (Blackrock College/UCD RFC/Leinster), Mark Hernan (St. Michael’s College/Lansdowne FC/Leinster), David McCann (RBAI/Banbridge RFC/Ulster) (c)
Replacements: John McKee (Campbell College/Old Belvedere RFC/Leinster), Harry Noonan (Greystones RFC/Old Wesley RFC/Leinster), Charlie Ward (Tullow RFC/Clontarf FC/Leinster), Joe McCarthy (Blackrock College/Dublin University FC/Leinster), Cian Prendergast (Newbridge College/UCD RFC/Leinster), Ben Murphy (Presentation College Bray/Clontarf FC/Leinster), Tim Corkery (Kilkenny RFC/Lansdowne FC/Leinster), Luis Faria (Newpark Comprehensive/Dublin University FC/Leinster)
There are a similarly low number of changes in the Wales U20 side despite the poor result last week, as Gareth Williams resists the temptation to make wholesale changes to his starting XV, instead opting to tweak certain areas.
Two of the three changes come up front where Theo Bevacqua and Will Griffiths come in to start at loosehead and hooker respectively, with Callum Williams and Dom Booth dropping to the bench.
The other sees the familiar name of Ioan Lloyd start at full-back after enjoying a breakthrough first half of the season with Bristol Bears in the Gallagher Premiership, with Josh Thomas dropping to the bench and Luke Scully missing out on the 23.
There is another switch on the bench as Gwilym Bradley will cover the back row rather than Travis Huntley.
Wales U20: Ioan Lloyd (Bristol Bears), Daniel John (Millfield School), Osian Knott (Scarlets), Aneurin Owen (Dragons), Ewan Rosser (Dragons), Sam Costelow (Leicester Tigers), Dafydd Buckland (Dragons); Theo Bevacqua (Cardiff Blues), Will Griffiths (Dragons), Ben Warren (Cardiff Blues), Jac Price (Scarlets), Ben Carter (Dragons), Ioan Davies (Cardiff Blues), Jac Morgan (Scarlets)(c), Morgan Strong (Ospreys)
Replacements: Dom Booth (Scarlets), Callum Williams (Scarlets), Archie Griffin (Bath Rugby), James Fender (Ospreys), Gwilym Bradley (Cardiff Blues), Ellis Bevan (Cardiff Met), Bradley Roderick (Ospreys), Josh Thomas (Ospreys)
It’s going to be a tough game for both sides with the weather forecast for Cork on Friday night looking horrendous, with heavy rain and a strong wind set to disrupt the game.
Whoever manages the conditions the best on the plastic surface will come out on top, with the set piece set to be the key battle ground. Wales’ lineout will have to improve dramatically in that sense, but if they can hold on to the ball there they have a chance with the dual kicking threat of Ioan Lloyd and Sam Costelow.