WHEN IRELAND PLAY France at any grade the pre-match focus generally revolves around the battle up front, but when the U20s line out in Donnybrook tonight [8pm, RTÉ2] there will be plenty of attention on the visiting fly-half.
At just 17 years of age it’s quite an achievement to even be involved at this level, never mind playing in such a pivotal position. But considering the royal rugby bloodline Romain N’Tamack comes from, it’s perhaps not altogether surprising.
His father Emile was one of the greatest players in the world in the ’90s, a devastating wing/fullback who scored 26 tries in 46 Tests, and the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, it seems.
Romain starred in France’s 36-8 defeat of Scotland last time out, as one of nine changes made by head coach Thomas Lievremont, brother of former senior chief Marc, after their embarrassing opening-round 59-17 loss to England.
While the inclusion of such a talented youngster is an obvious drawcard for those hoping to see stars of the future, this young, ferocious French pack will be looking to steal the show and prevent Ireland from making it three wins from three.
“They’re the same as any other French pack — extremely big, extremely good at the set-piece, scrum and lineout, from what we’ve seen,” Ireland U20 scrum coach Conor Twomey says.
“They look to play and they look to have depth in the front row and at number eight. They’re a good French team.
“We’ve really concentrated on what they did against Scotland rather than against England because I don’t think it will be the same team.
“They were a lot better against Scotland than they were against England, which wouldn’t be hard.”
Interestingly, for tonight’s game, Lievremont has recalled two of the back rowers — openside Julien Ruaud and number eight Alexandre Roumat — he dropped after France’s battering against England.
La Rochelle scrum-half Arthur Retiere, who was also left out after the opening-round defeat, but impressed when scoring two tries as a replacement against Scotland, has also been recalled as one of six changes to France’s starting XV.
Incidentally, Daniel Brennan, the son of former Ireland international Trevor Brennan and a colleague of Romain N’Tamack’s at Toulouse, once again isn’t named in Lievremont’s match-day 23 despite being included in his provisional Six Nations squad.
As reported earlier this week, Ireland are without their two first-choice captains for tonight’s game as fullback Jack Kelly and blindside flanker Cillian Gallagher are absent with shoulder injuries.
Gallagher’s issue, picked up while leading the side to a one-point victory in Italy, will likely rule him out of the rest of the tournament while Nigel Carolan and his management team are hopeful Kelly will be fit to face Wales in two weeks’ time.
Ulster fly-half Johnny McPhillips, one of Ireland’s brightest lights in this campaign so far, misses out tonight with a groin injury but Carolan has the luxury to call on fit-again Munster star Bill Johnston in his absence.
Centre Gavin Mullin is another who misses out through injury (hamstring) and his former Blackrock College midfield partner Tommy O’Brien comes off the bench to take his spot.
Regular lock Fineen Wycherley is also unavailable as he has been called up by Munster for their Guinness Pro12 clash against Scarlets tonight.
Rising Ulster star Rob Lyttle returns from injury and lines out at fullback to earn his first cap at this grade while Munster’s Calvin Nash will captain the side from the left wing.
The word from the Irish camp this week is that they are desperate to get the ball in the hands of their pacy backs on the 4G Donnybrook pitch after edging scrappy arm-wrestles against Scotland and Italy.
However, to do just that, and make home advantage count, they’ll need to match the French up front first of all.