The Six Nations season gets under way tonight with Ireland’s U-20s in action against Scotland in Dubarry Park, Athlone (kick-off 7.05pm, live on RTÉ Two and rte.ie/sport ).
While underage grades are naturally prone to big personnel turnovers, this season only two players, Peter Dooley and Peadar Timmins, have previous 6N game-time.
UCD openside Dan Leavy, who captains the side, played four times in last year’s U-20 World Cup and adds his experience to the team.
Coach Mike Ruddock, in his fourth year in charge, concedes that the nature of his job dictates that building momentum is difficult and his primary focus is getting the team to mould quickly into a force.
“It’s hard to know how they’ll gel, even though we know they are good players,” the former Wales coach told Irish Rugby TV.
“Some will take to the big lights and the big stage, live on TV on a Friday night against Scotland; some will just waltz into that, breeze into that and be ready for action.
“Others might find it a little bit daunting [in the] first game. That’s the imponderable: will we gel, will we play the way we want to?
"We narrowly lost to Scotland last year so we are aware of the challenge ahead of us.
"This group have gathered a lot of valuable game time with their clubs and provinces so the group have high hopes of delivering a strong performance at the weekend.”
“Past experience will tell me that these guys normally rise to the occasion and our record at home is pretty good and hopefully we’ll have another result [against Scotland].”
Ireland finished last season third in the table on five points, the tally coming courtesy of wins over England and France at home and a draw away to Italy; Scotland, coached by 1990 Grand Slam winner Sean Lineen, beat Ireland 21-20 in the corresponding fixture last February.
Scotland’s other win was at home to Italy.
IRELAND: D Busby; A Byrne, G Ringrose, P Robb, I Fitzpatrick; R Byrne, N McCarthy; P Dooley, M Abbott, R Burke; S O'Brien, R Molony; P Timmins, D Leavy, J O'Donoghue.
Replacements: S Delahunt, J Walshe, O Heffernan, J Joyce, R Moloney, J Cullen, C McKeon, D Goggin.
LIVE: U20 SIX NATIONS
Live television coverage of the U20 Six Nations meeting of Ireland and Scotland from 19:00 on Friday 31 January on RTÉ Two and RTE.ie (Ireland only).
LIVE: WOMEN’S SIX NATIONS
Live video streaming of the Women’s Six Nations meeting of Ireland and Scotland from 19:25 on Friday 31 January on RTÉ.ie and irishrugby.com. Live radio coverage on Game On from 19:00 on RTÉ 2fm and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide).
LIVE: RBS SIX NATIONS
Live television coverage of the opening weekend of the RBS Six Nations from 14:00 on Saturday 1 and Sunday 2 February on RTÉ Two and RTE.ie (Ireland only). Live radio coverage on Saturday Sport (14:00) and Sunday Sport (14:00) on RTÉ Radio 1 and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide).