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Ireland's 2016 U20 World Championship Finalists: Where Are They Now?

Ireland's 2016 U20 World Championship Finalists: Where Are They Now?
By PJ Browne Updated

In the summer of 2016, an Ireland team reached the U20 World Rugby Championship final for the first, and still only time. They lost to hosts England 45-21 in the decider.

We've taken a look at how the careers of those players have worked out in the intervening six years. It was a team which featured six players who would go on to win senior caps for Ireland.

Jacob Stockdale

Stockdale made his international debut a year after the final against England, and now had 35 caps. The Ulster back has flitted in an out of the Ireland team due to form and concerns about his defensive ability.

Matthew Byrne

The Dublin-born back joined the Connacht academy ahead of the 2016/17 season but left the province in 2018. He recently finished a degree in architecture.

Shane Daly

The Cork native has become a regular on the wing or at fullback for Munster since making his senior debut for the province in 2018. He made his Ireland debut against Georgia in the 2020 November internationals and won his second cap against Japan in July 2021.

Conor O’Brien

The Westmeath man made his Leinster senior debut in November 2017, and went on to make 14 appearances the following season, scoring six tries. Due to injury troubles, the back's appearances over the past two seasons have been limited.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFieRKOQKl4

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Hugo Keenan

 

Keenan has established himself as first choice fullback for Leinster and Ireland. He made his Ireland debut against Italy in the November 2020, and now has 14 international caps.

Johnny McPhillips

 

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The out-half, who was born and raised in England, came through the Ulster academy. He departed the province for Leicester in the summer of 2019 when Ulster signed Billy Burns and Bill Johnston.

After making 21 appearances for Leicester in two seasons, he left the English side in the summer of 2021 to join French D2 team US Carcassonne.

Stephen Kerins

 

Kerins, who played scrum-half on that Ireland U20 team, made his Connacht senior debut in a January 2019 Challenge Cup victory over Bordeaux Bègles.

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The 25-year-old left Connacht in the summer of 2021 for English Championship side Ealing Trailfinders. He had spent the first half of 2021 on loan at Bristol Bears under former Connacht head coach Pat Lam.

Andrew Porter

 

Porter player at loosehead prop in that U20 final. The years which followed saw him switch to tighthead but he has since returned to the number one shirt for Leinster and Ireland. The 26-year-old now had 43 international caps.

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25 June 2016; A dejected Andrew Porter of Ireland after the World Rugby U-20 Championships Final match between Ireland and England at AJ Bell Stadium in Salford, England. Photo by Matt McNulty/Sportsfile

Adam McBurney

 

McBurney made his Ulster debut in 2017, and went on to make 35 appearances for the province. The hooker, who qualifies to play for Scotland through his mother, joined Edinburgh in the summer of 2021. Though he was not named in Gregor Townsend's Six Nations squad, he was a contender for a spot.

"If it comes about that I’m in the training squad or whatever then class, but if not I’m pretty happy down here just taking every game as it comes and just doing what I’m doing," he told the Scotsman ahead of the squad announcement.

Ben Betts

 

The Limerick man, started at tighthead prop for that Ireland U20 team, was a member of the Munster sub-academy that season, but was not offered a place in the academy for the following one. Instead, he joined Leicester in the summer of 2016, where he spent two seasons.

He joined Ealing Trailfinders in 2018, and spent the 2019/20 season on loan at Notthingham. He had signed for Doncaster Knights ahead of the 2020/21 season but instead it was announced that he had "decided to focus on interests outside of rugby, stepping away from the professional game to transition into full time employment back in Ireland".

However, he later signed with Nottingham in March 2021, and still plays for the English Championship side.

Sean O’Connor

O'Connor made his senior debut for Munster in a memorable 27-14 victory over the Maori All Blacks at Thomond Park in November 2016. The second row, a Tipperary native, made nine appearances for the province before leaving for Jersey Reds in the summer of 2020. He is still with the English Champions

25 June 2016; Sean O'Connor of Ireland in action against Max Green during the World Rugby U-20 Championships Final match between Ireland and England at AJ Bell Stadium in Salford, England. Photo by Matt McNulty/Sportsfile

James Ryan

 

The Leinster forward captained Ireland in that U20 final. He now has 42 international caps, and is recognised as one of the game's best second rows.

Greg Jones

 

Born in Dublin, Jones joined the Ulster academy in 2017, and made his senior debut that November. The backrow has made 38 appearances for the province.

David Aspil

 

The backrow went on to line out for the Leinster A team in subsequent seasons. He now works as a pensions adminstrator.

Max Deegan

 

The 25-year-old made his Leinster senior debut in later 2016 against the Dragons, and has made 77 appearances in all for the province. He also has one Ireland cap, won in a 2020 Six Nations victory over Wales.

Deegan suffered an ACL injury in October 2020 which kept him out of action for eight months but he has recovered well, becoming a first team regular once again in the 2021/22 season.

Replacements:

Vincent O’Brien

 

The Cork hooker was released by the Munster academy in 2018. He now plays in Spain with Ciencias Rugby Sevilla.

James Bollard

 

The loosehead prop plays in the AIL with Old Belvedere.

Adam Coyle

 

The prop made two appearances for Leinster in the 2017/18 season. He now plays for Naas in the AIL.

Evan Mintern

 

The Cork native, who can play at lock or in the backrow, joined Rugby United New York ahead of the 2020 season. He was traded to late last year Rugby Atlanta.

Kelvin Brown

 

The backrow was not awarded a spot in the Munster academy following Ireland's World Championship campaign. Instead, he joined French D2 side Aurillac for a season. Aurillac offered the Limerick man a three-year deal, and he had offers from English Championship sides, but he chose to return home to finish his third level education, and play with Shannon in the AIL.

Niall Saunders

 

The English-born scrum-half, son of former Ireland international Rob Saunders, was with Harlequins at the time of that world final. He spent the following three seasons with the English Premiership side before announcing his retirement from the game, aged just 22, in the summer of 2020. He no longer enjoyed the professional rugby player lifestlye.

Saunders recently returned to the sport, playing for Tel-Aviv Heat in the Rugby Europe Super Cup late last year, and he is now with Major League Rugby side Utah Warriors.

Brett Connon

 

Just as he was for the U20 championship, Connon - who can play at out-half and fullback - is still with Newcastle Falcons. The 25-year-old, made his senior debut for the club in 2016, has become a regular for the Premiership team.

Jimmy O’Brien

 

O'Brien made his Leinster debut against Ospreys in November 2018. He has since become a regular for the province across the backline. The Kildare man was recently called up to the Ireland squad for the first time.

See Also: Ireland's 2007 Six Nations Grand Slam U20s Team: Where Are They Now?


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