Ireland v England showdown in Athlone this Friday

Ireland play England in a vital ESB u20 Six Nations rugby championship match at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Friday evening, February 27 in what is likely to be the decisive game in this year’s championship.

Not only does this promise to be a thrilling and exciting clash, but it may well also be the pivotal fixture, as it pairs the only two unbeaten sides in the competition.

England is strongly tipped to retain the crown they won last season but Ireland, fielding a much stronger squad this term than last year, will be hoping to again overcome England at the Athlone venue. They have decent victories in their opening games, winning 29-23 away to Italy after overcoming France 9-6 in the opening series of games.

The French test may not have been as expansive as hoped for but two physical and evenly-matched squads slugged it out toe to toe until Ireland grabbed a late, late victory courtesy of ‘ESB Man of the match’ Ian Madigan’s penalty.

They then had that bit too much élan to account for a dogged Italy, who gave England a much closer run than the 17-0 win for the holders indicates. England then defeated Wales 28-16 in the second series, setting up Friday’s clash of the only two countries still sporting 100 per cent winning records this season.

England have a fairly settled pack, led by backrower Calum Clark. The Leeds Carnegie player captains the team. They have tinkered with their backline where they seem spoiled for choice. Two young Newcastle Falcons players Rory Clegg and Rob Miller (surely benefiting from the tutelage of Jonny Wilkinson ) have shared the outhalf duties while scrumhalf Ben Youngs is a tremendously exciting player. The Leicester Tigers halfback has hugely promising potential and is certainly one to keep an eye on for the future as is wing Seb Stegmann of Harlequins. Centres Luke Eves and Henry Trinder are classy operators too.

Consequently, Ireland will need to be at their competitive and focussed best. However, they look well equipped for the challenge and can boast a physical pack that, if disciplined, can match the best. Cork Constitution’s Peter O’Mahony is another fine backrow skipper. Lansdowne’s Dominic Ryan looks a right good prospect at wing forward and UCD lock Mark Flanagan from Mullingar is an imposing presence in the second row. Garryowen pair Andrew Burke and Conor Murray struggled to dictate matters at halfback against France but Blackrock College player Madigan may be switched here to better effect while UCD’s Ian McKinley could also operate at standoff. The powerful Eamonn Sheridan is a smashing centre and fellow-Lansdowne player David Kearney can (like elder brother Rob ) perform comfortably on the wing or at fullback as can Buccaneers, John O’Brien who hopes to make the match squad for this mouth-watering tie. All in all, it is a well-balanced Ireland side that, if they front up in the forwards battle, can build on their first round victory over a fancied France squad. If they do, then history may repeat itself as Ireland overcame both France and England in Dubarry Park just two seasons ago enroute to their ‘Grand Slam’ championship success.

Tickets are on sale at The Bounty (Dubarry Park ), Musicworld (Golden Island ), and Keenan Sports outlets in Athlone, and also available at Noel Mannion Sports in Ballinasloe and Harten’s Newsagents, Moate.

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