Gifted Stewart is ready to fire rising Irish stars to glory in France
The U20 Six Nations Championship has always been worth watching in recent years as the stars of tomorrow are making the step up to senior rugby much quicker these days.
This evening in Bordeaux (8.00pm) a new crop of exciting youngsters begin a journey that they will hope leads to a bigger stage.
Some of the players head coach Noel McNamara has selected for a tough first assignment against France have already been exposed to senior rugby but for many, this will be a considerable step up from anything they have faced in their fledgling careers.
Jonny Stewart is one of the most experienced players in the squad, particularly after he made his first Ulster start against Leinster last month.
The scrum-half was also part of last year’s Ireland U-20 squad and since returning for another season he has become one of the main leaders.
Starting against Leinster at the RDS was a daunting task but Stewart handled it well.
“It was nice to get a bit of exposure with the senior team, whether it’s training and especially playing as well,” he said.
“I’ve played two games, both against Leinster, so it hasn’t been an easy position. It’s been a bit of a baptism of fire, you could say, but I’m really enjoying it.”
Stewart will look to provide service to a back line that has plenty of potential. Out-half Harry Byrne, the younger brother of Leinster pivot Ross, is an exciting talent.
Outside of him, captain Tommy O’Brien showed last year how good he is at this level.
Up front, Jack Aungier is a tighthead prop with a bright future as is hooker Ronan Kelleher, younger brother of Connacht winger Cian.
For France, Daniel Brennan, son of former Ireland forward Trevor, starts at tighthead.
The powerful youngster is highly rated in France and has been linked with a move to Montpellier.
Brennan isn’t the only player with a famous father in the French side as Romain Ntamack, son of former international star Emile, is at out-half.
“It’s not easy but we’re really looking forward to it,” Stewart added.
FRANCE U-20: C Laporte; I Etcheverry, P-L Barassi, A Vincent, M Marty; R Ntamack, A Coville (capt); H Kilingar, M Lamothe, D Brennan; T Lavult, K Geraci; C Woki, I Diallo, M Lemardelet. Reps: L Peyresblanques, U Boniface, D Bamba, A Roussel, B Heguy, J Gimbert, L Carbonel, P Boudehent.
IRELAND U-20: M Silvester; P Sullivan, D McCarthy, T O’Brien (capt), J McCarthy; H Byrne, J Stewart; J Duggan, R Kelleher, A Aungier; C Daly, J Dunne; M Dalton, A Hall, J O’Sullivan. Reps: D Barron, J French, T O’Toole, R Coffey, S Masterson, H O’Sullivan, A Curtis, A Kernohan.