Cape Town, South Africa is the destination as World Rugby's U20 Championship is poised to make its return following a four-year hiatus, driven by the pandemic. It’s a welcome return for the tournament and an extra special one as the Ireland U20s rugby team - who is sponsored by PwC - is currently in a great place with its vast amount of talent been produced by the provinces.
The Championship has traditionally been the crucible from which the professional Irish rugby players of tomorrow are forged, with 69 Irish players already having ascended to the senior ranks after their Under-20 World Cup debut.
This year, Ireland enters the fray as the 8th seed based on past performances, but their recent domination on the European rugby circuit tells a different story. Having clinched back-to-back Six Nations championships in 2022 and 2023, they now stand as the titans of Europe, challenging the big guns from down south
Richie Murphy, the strategic mastermind behind Ireland's U20 team, is prepared to extend his victorious streak in the Championship as he gears up to confront formidable adversaries such as England, Australia, and Fiji in the preliminary Pool B clashes. With a powerhouse squad selected for the tournament, all eyes are set on the opening game against England, scheduled to kick off at 12.30 pm Irish time.
With fond memories of a robust 36-24 triumph over England in Cork this March, Ireland U20s are raring to recreate that glory. That thrilling match witnessed Munster's No.8 Brian Gleeson and Connacht's winger Hugh Gavin each scoring two electrifying tries. Yet, the English team, reduced to 14 due to Marcus Bradbury's red card, will be eager to narrow the gap, if they can keep a full team on the pitch.
Ireland U20s face daunting first game
The spotlight shines brightly on the Irish team, brimming with talent and led by the exceptional hooker Gus McCarthy. While the outstanding out-half Sam Prendergast has rightly received much of the praise for this teams performances to date, the squad is anything but a one-man show, boasting of talent in abundance. Future stars eagerly await the provinces to pick their next prodigies for professional contracts.
Up front the pack , featuring the formidable duo of Evan O’Connell and Conor O’Tighearnaigh, will pose a severe challenge to the English side. The back row, comprised of Mangan, Quinn, and McNabney, that would not look out of place in a URC team, with the ability to shake up the English defence with their ball-carrying prowess.
Fintan Gunne, who emerged from an injury-plagued season to shine brightly in the Six Nations, leads the attack behind the scrum. The Irish back three - McErlean, Osborne, and Gavin - are a class apart. Their explosive potential will be a serious threat to the English if given enough room.
One of Ireland's trump cards lies in the quality of its substitutes. Brian Gleeson, a future star in the making, and the game-changer James Nicholson, both begin from the bench and are ready to seize the opportunity to make a significant impact on the game.
However, Ireland mustn't overlook the potential threat from England's Toby Elliott. The top try-scorer in the Six Nations, Elliott has already proven his mettle with four appearances for the Saracens this season.
While Ireland is on the hunt for a perfect start in the Championship, they're well aware of the significant challenges that lie ahead, especially as poor weather has made preparations challenging. Post the England match, they face a quick turnaround before taking on Australia's U20s on June 29th, and wrapping up the Pool B games against Fiji U20s on July 4th. With the playoffs and hopefully the grand finale set for July 14th, the tournament promises to be a thrilling rollercoaster of world-class rugby