Ireland face a familiar (and formidable) foe in U20 World Championship opener

WHILE MOST IRISH eyes are inevitably drawn to the Silver Fern looming in Ireland’s second game of the World Rugby under 20 championship, head coach Nigel Carolan has been keeping a firm focus on the opener.

And with very good reason.

Not only did Jason Strange’s Wales inflict defeat on Ireland in the opening fixture of the Six Nations in February, they went on an incredibly impressive run off that platform and carry serious momentum into this Championship on the back of the Grand Slam.

Though from this island we usually tend to look upon Wales as our equals, it would take an enormous effort to upset the Six Nations champions in Manchester on Tuesday (kick-off 17.30).

Though Ireland clearly improved as the tournament wore on in the spring, Wales’ immense physicality and incessant powerful carrying ultimately wore Ireland down on opening night. The Wolfpuppies forced to mount attacks on the counter or in fractured play.

Milliard tackling John Poland. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Though the brightest spark of the Welsh back-line — 19-year-old Ospreys centre Owen Watkin — has been given the summer off, Strange can still call upon an unchanged powerhouse of a pack from the side that decimated England 16 – 42 away from home in March.

Number eight Harrison Keddle is the clear stand-out threat. He’ll be the go-to Welshman for carries and he rarely misses the chance of a gainline. Keddle will be flanked by his captain Tom Phillips and Shaun Evans (who has just signed a professional deal with Scarlets) and the pair form a ferocious breakdown hunting threat.

Source: WRU Official/YouTube

With the incisive wing George Gasson forced into a late withdrawal, Wales’ back-line is undoubtedly weakened in his and Watkin’s absence. Yet scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams offers excellent variation to keep the attacking tempo high and centre Harri Millard has a knack of getting himself on the score-sheet.

Ireland will have to hit the ground running a lot quicker than they did in the Six Nations, and keep knocking red jerseys back, to avoid another tournament opening loss.

Wales squad for World Rugby Under 20 Championship

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Forwards: Tom Phillips (captain, Scarlets), Rhys Fawcett (Scarlets), Corey Domachowski (Blues), Leon Brown (Dragons), Kieron Assiratti (Blues), Dillon Lewis (Blues), Liam Belcher (Blues), Dafydd Hughes (Scarlets), Adam Beard (Ospreys), Seb Davies (Blues), Shane Lewis-Hughes (Blues), Shaun Evans (Scarlets), Harrison Keddie (Dragons), Morgan Sieniawski (Blues), Josh Macleod (Scarlets)

Backs: Reuben Morgan-Williams (Ospreys), Declan Smith (Scarlets), Daniel Jones (Scarlets), Billy McBryde (Scarlets), Jarrod Evans (Blues), Kieran Williams (Ospreys), Joe Thomas (Ospreys), Harri Millard (Blues), Tom Williams (Ospreys), Jared Rosser  (Ebbw Vale), Keelan Giles (Ospreys), Rhun Williams (RGC 1404), Joe Gage (Ospreys).

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