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World champions pose considerable threat to U20s' Grand Slam bid

Key man: Craig Casey will again operate at half-back
Key man: Craig Casey will again operate at half-back

By Cian Tracey

Any talk of winning an historic first Grand Slam at Under-20s level must be put on hold until Ireland find a way to see off the defending world champions, who still have their sights set on winning the Six Nations.

That Ireland have only won the championship once in the tournament's 10-year history illustrates just how difficult it is to be successful at this level, but this year's crop have put themselves in with a great shout of ending the barren run.

Victories over England, Scotland and Italy mean that Ireland are the only team who can win the Slam and, as they return to Irish Independent Park in front of what is expected to be another bumper crowd, Noel McNamara's charges are riding the crest of a wave.

However, no-one is underestimating the scale of the challenge against a French team who, after winning last year's Six Nations, went on to be crowned world champions.

Several players are involved again and they will be aiming to derail Ireland's potential Grand Slam decider in Wales next week.

That said, confidence is high in the Ireland camp and why wouldn't it be?

At the beginning of the tournament, McNamara said that he would be looking to build the depth ahead of June's World Cup, yet such has been the outstanding level of performance, it has been difficult to drop any of the players.

"I don't know if you need to temper it (excitement)," the head coach maintained.

"The group are good. They have worked very hard over the last few weeks and have given themselves an opportunity through that.

"The lads have prepped well, had a good run-out against the senior team in Belfast.

"If you don't enjoy these kind of challenges, then they really shouldn't be involved in it.

"We are expecting a massive challenge. We are expecting the world champions to turn up.

"We know that if we are not at our best, it probably won't be good enough.

"Equally, we fully believe that if we are at our best, it will be."

IRELAND U20s: J Flannery; A Kernohan, L Turner, S French, J Wren; H Byrne, C Casey; J Wycherley, D Tierney-Martin, T Clarkson; C Ryan (capt), N Murray; M Moloney, S Penny, J Hodnett.

Replacements: J McKee, C Reid, R Lomas, R Baird, D McCann, C Foley, B Healy, R Russell.

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