6:39am Friday 7th February 2014
WALES Under-20s, just like the seniors, head over the Irish Sea knowing that a dramatic improvement is needed if they are to keep their Six Nations Grand Slam hopes alive in Athlone (kick-off 7.35pm), writes Chris Kirwan.
Byron Hayward’s young guns got their campaign off to a winning start against Italy in Colwyn Bay but they can ill afford to be as wasteful.
They were in command throughout but struggled to put the young Azzurri to the sword with Dafydd Howells’ late try making it 26-9 and adding a touch of gloss.
Ireland, who are led by former Dragons and Wales coach Mike Ruddock, also started with a victory but found the going slightly easier when smashing Scotland 34-7.
"We will need to step up a gear defensively against Ireland as they will pose a different challenge to Italy,” said Hayward.
“I'm confident we can rise to that challenge as we've worked hard on that area of our game under (defence coach) Richard Hodges.
"Along with a solid defence, our discipline needs to be good and we need to attack in the right areas and at the right times.
"I've told the players that it will be a totally different challenge playing away from home - the environment and the crowd will be something new for most of the players.
“But it’s a challenge that will stand us in good stead as we prepare for the Junior World Championship in New Zealand.”
That tournament in June pits Wales against Ireland, so tonight’s visitors will be keen to land the first blow.
Hayward has selected seven Dragons in his matchday squad with starts for fly-half Ethan Davies, wing Ashton Hewitt, lock Scott Andrews and flanker James Benjamin and spots on the bench for prop Luke Garrett, openside Ollie Griffiths and centre Tyler Morgan.
Wales U20s: Afon Bagshaw (RGC); Ashton Hewitt (Dragons), Steffan Hughes (capt, Scarlets), Garyn Smith (Blues), Joshua Adams (Scarlets); Ethan Davies (Dragons), Tom Williams (Blues); Nicky Smith (Ospreys),Ethan Lewis (Blues), Nicky Thomas (Ospreys), Scott Andrews (Dragons), James Sheekey (Blues), Will Boyde (Carmarthen), James Benjamin (Dragons) Ben Roach (Blues). Replacements: Scott Otten (Ospreys), Luke Garrett (Dragons), Callum Lewis (Blues), Rory Thornton (Ospreys) Ollie Griffiths (Dragons), Connor Lloyd (Scarlets), Luke Price (Ospreys), Tyler Morgan (Dragons)
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