Irish U20s fired up to face off against French hosts in World opener
Three Ulstermen will be in the starting line-up when Ireland begin their World Rugby Under-20s Championship campaign against hosts France in Perpignan this evening (8pm BST).
Ulster lock Matt Dalton, who made his senior bow this season, will be in the engine room, while young flankers Joe Dunleavy and Matthew Agnew both get the nod from head coach Noel McNamara in the back-row.
There are two further Ulstermen on the bench, scrum-half Jonny Stewart will start his second go at this Championship in the number 21 jersey, while back-rower Aaron Hall is also among the replacements.
There are three uncapped players in the backline with wingers Dan Hurley and Tom Roche, along with centre Peter Sylvester, all making their bow at this level.
Ulster's Tom O'Toole and Munster back-rower Jack O'Sullivan were both ruled out through injury after the squad was named, joining the likes of Angus Curtis and Sean Masterson in missing out.
Depsite a few crucial absentees, and a tremendously difficult pool that has pitted them against heavily favoured hosts France and the Junior Springboks, Ireland's head coach believes his panel is in a positive frame of mind going into tonight's opener.
"There has been a great build-up to this game, with positive work done both at home and since we arrived here in France," said McNamara.
"Everyone is looking forward to getting the tournament underway.
"We know from the Six Nations how vocal and passionate the French fans are and there's no doubt that there will be a fantastic atmosphere in Perpignan.
"The players have worked hard and know the task ahead, so for them it's about focusing on their roles and going out there and playing with conviction."
The other game in Ireland's pool today (5.30pm BST) sees South Africa take on Georgia, also in the Stade Aime-Giral. Ireland will meet South Africa on Sunday before concluding their pool stage against Georgia on Thursday, both games in Narbonne.
Elsewhere today, England take on Argentina, while Scotland face Italy (5.30pm BST) in the first batch of games, with New Zealand v Japan and Australia v Wales in the evening slots (8pm BST).
IRELAND: M Silvester; T Roche, Tommy O'Brien, P Sylvester, D Hurley; H Byrne, H O'Sullivan; J French, D Barron, J Aungier; M Dalton, J Dunne; J Dunleavy, M Agnew, C Doris (c). Replacements: D Sheehan, J Duggan , J Byrne, C Ryan, A Hall, J Stewart, C Dean, S O'Brien.
Ireland's World Rugby Under-20 Championships fixtures: France v Ireland, Stade Aime-Giral, Perpignan, Wednesday May 30, 8pm; South Africa v Ireland, Stade d'Honneur du Parc des Sports et de l'Amitie, Narbonne, Sunday June 3, 3.30pm; Ireland v Georgia, Stade d'Honneur du Parc des Sports et de l'Amitie, Narbonne, Thursday June 7, 5.30pm