End of World as Ulster's Hughes out of Irish U20 glory quest
Ulster full-back Iwan Hughes has been ruled out of the Ireland Under-20's crucial World Championship clash with their Australian counterparts this afternoon (2.30pm kick-off).
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The Academy back, who spent last season playing for Ballynahinch, started the impressive win over England on Tuesday in the 15 jersey but will now play no further part in the tournament due to a finger injury.
He is replaced in the starting line-up by Leinster's Rob Russell with the only other change to the Irish side forced by the head injury sustained by Ulster's Azur Alison. As expected, Ronan Watters, who excelled in his place from the bench in the opening fixture, comes into the starting back-row.
Joining Hughes on the plane home will be Sean French. A key member of this year's Grand Slam squad, French was good again off the bench against England but sustained a facial injury that has ruled him out of the tournament.
It's yet more injury trouble for a squad who lost key men Harry Byrne, Scott Penny and David Hawkshaw before flying out.
Leinster duo Max O'Reilly and Aaron O'Sullivan will join the panel as replacements to bring the squad back up to 28 but not in time for today's contest.
Ulster's representation this afternoon comes in the form of centre Stewart Moore, wing Angus Kernohan and flanker David McCann, who have all retained their places.
Having beaten England so impressively just four days ago, this afternoon's game, again in Santa Fe, seems sure to go a long way towards deciding the pool.
Both these teams go into the game having picked up a bonus-point win in the opening round, Ireland's 42-26 victory over England matched by the Junior Wallabies who beat Italy 36-12, leading the game 36-0 before a late Italian response.
Like Ireland, a runners-up spot is Australia's best showing in this tournament and in recent editions they have been nothing more than average, fluctuating between fifth and sixth for the past five years.
The Wallaby defence against the Italians was suffocating, just as it was when they were crowned under-age champions of Oceania earlier this year.
To seal that crown they beat the Junior All Blacks by a score of 24-0, causing Fox Sports Australia to ask: "Is this Australia's next golden generation?"
Irish head coach Noel McNamara said: "In terms of Australia, one of the things that strikes you is how good their defence is, how physical they are as a side, a very, very strong pack in particular.
"There are going to be a few areas that we are going to have to be at the top of our game in if we want to come out the right side of the result.
"The two tries they conceded against Italy came in the last 10 minutes, so I think that gives an indication of the challenge that they're going to pose, particularly in terms of their defence.
"Their captain, Fraser McReight, is exceptionally strong over the ball. As I said, we need to be at the top of our game in certain areas if we are to get the victory."
It is little surprise to see McNamara highlight the threat of McReight, a player who is already being touted as the natural successor to Wallaby great David Pocock in the Australian No.7 jersey.
Now in his second visit to this tournament and possessing a freakish talent over the ball, his ability to force turnovers wreaked havoc at the breakdown against the Italians.
The highlight of the victory, though, was their fifth try scored by Noah Lolesio.
The inside centre, who should have an interesting battle with Malone man Moore, deserved his score but it was noteworthy not for the finish but what preceded it.
Full-back Isaac Lucas came onto the ball from a scrum and beat three Italians with footwork alone before offloading out of the tackle and finding Lolesio.
In a game highlighted by brilliant defence, the attacking verve lit up the contest but it should come as no surprise that it was the man in the 15 jersey providing the spark. Another enjoying a second go at this tournament, Lucas has already made his Super Rugby bow for the Reds this season.