Ireland head coach Allen Clarke admits his squad will be taking a step into the unknown when they lock horns with Italy in their opening Under-20 RBS 6 Nations Championship clash.
Rhys Ruddock, who featured in last year’s tournament, is the stand-out name in Clarke’s 26-man squad after making his Leinster bow against the Dragons in December.
Ruddock, son of Worcester and former Wales coach Mike Ruddock, is joined in the squad by six other players who have previously represented the under-20’s.
And after being pipped to the post by France last year, Clarke has called on his side to hit the ground running in their pursuit of top spot this year.
“We all recognise the potential of the squad while respecting the challenges ahead, the first of which is to start the Six Nations campaign against Italy at home with a good performance,” said Clarke.
“Being the first game of the championship means we have little knowledge of the opposition so our concentration is to be accurate with and without the ball.
“The attitude of the players has been excellent, both in their individual attention and motivation while developing with their provincial rugby and fitness coaches and while playing for their clubs.
“The warm up games against the Provincial Development sides have provided the opportunity to develop our game and identify the areas we need to improve.”
Ireland U-20 RBS 6 Nations Squad.
Andrew Conway (Blackrock/Leinster)
John Cooney (UCD/Leinster)*
Eoin Griffin (Corinthians/Connacht)
Michael Heaney (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster)
Darren Hudson (St. Mary's /Leinster)
Brian Kingston (Blackrock/Leinster)
Brendan Macken (Blackrock/Leinster)
James McKinney (Queens/Ulster)
David McSharry (UCD/Leinster)
Tiernan O'Halloran (Galwegians/Connacht)
Nevin Spence (Ballynahinch/Ulster)*
Simon Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Niall Annett (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster)
Denis Buckley (Corinthians/Connacht)
Patrick Butler (Shannon/Munster)
Bryan Cagney (UCC/Munster)
David Doyle (UCD/Leinster)
Brian Hayes (Cork Constitution/Munster)*
Stewart Maguire (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
Ben Marshall (UCD/Leinster)
Jordi Murphy (Blackrock/Leinster)
Robin O'Sullivan (Bective/Leinster)
David O'Callaghan (UCC/Munster)*
Jack O'Connell (Lansdowne/Leinster)*
Rhys Ruddock (UCD/Leinster)*
Dominic Ryan (Lansdowne/Leinster)*
* Denotes previously capped player at under-20 level.