Seven Ulster aces included in Irish squad for U20 World quest
Seven Ulster players have been named in the Ireland Under-20s squad for the upcoming World Championships in France.
In what is Ulster's biggest representation at the tournament since 2011, four of the group -Matty Dalton, Tom O'Toole, Jonny Stewart and Aaron Hall - have already been blooded by the senior team this season, while another, Angus Curtis, was not considered due to injury.
The remaining contingent from the northern province are centre James Hume and flankers Matty Agnew and Joe Dunleavy.
The panel will be captained by Leinster's Caelan Doris with just five of the 28-man squad yet to play at Under-20s level.
Doris' inclusion is a particularly significant boost.
He played a year young in 2017 and was one of the stand-out performers, but his progress was hampered when he tore his hamstring in a warm-up game ahead of the Under-20 Six Nations.
It was a major blow for a youngster who had been making waves in Leinster, but he has bounced back well.
Doris played for St Mary's in the All-Ireland League before making his Leinster debut against Connacht last month.
At 20, the former Blackrock College student has a bright future ahead of him, and his return also softens the potential blow of losing Munster's Jack O'Sullivan, who is struggling with an injury.
Head coach Noel McNamara said: "Caelan was arguably the best No.8 in the Six Nations last year. He's a guy who has played senior rugby for Leinster and is very highly regarded.
"There is no doubt that he is a big boost for us coming back."
Doris takes over the captaincy duties from Tommy O'Brien. Both players will be crucial to Ireland's hopes of advancing from a tough pool that includes South Africa and Georgia as well as France.
Doris maintained: "When you are out (injured), it's frustrating at the time, seeing everyone else doing well, but there were a lot of things I was able to work on.
"I feel like I'm coming back a better player. I'm really looking forward to getting stuck into the World Cup."
Last week, Doris was rewarded with a Leinster senior contract ahead of next season and the fact that he made his debut is indicative of how highly he is rated by Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster.
"It (his debut) was class," he added. "Leo actually said to me before the game that he made his debut in the Sportsground when he was 20, 20 years ago - the year I was born - so that was kind of cool.
"I played on that pitch with the Ballina minis. It was cool to be back in front of a full crowd.
"It was something I was definitely working towards and wanted. I knew it was going to be extremely tough, especially at the start of the season with the amount of back-rows, but there were a few injuries so I did get the opportunity.
"Definitely my goal was to play with Leinster A quite a bit, and I got that so, even with the injury, I still played about 12-15 games - so it was still a decent season for me."
Meanwhile, in a change-up to the coaching structure, Tom Tierney has been relieved of his duties as defence coach and will instead focus on his role as an elite player development officer with the IRFU.
Ireland open their campaign next Wednesday against France in Perpignan before their other pool games against South Africa and Georgia.