Top seeds in their World Rugby U20 Championship pool after their runners-up finish last summer, the Ireland U20s will certainly not underestimate the threat posed by Italy after they had to withstand a late rally by the Azzurrini to win their U20 Six Nations encounter 27-26 in February.
2017 WORLD RUGBY UNDER-20 CHAMPIONSHIP - POOL B: Wednesday, May 31
IRELAND UNDER-20s v ITALY UNDER-20s, Kutaisi Stadium, Kutaisi, 12.30pm Irish time (live eir Sport 1/World Rugby live streaming in certain countries)
Team News: Head Coach Peter Malone has finalised the Ireland U20 team, sponsored by PwC, to play Italy in today's opening Pool B match at the World Rugby U20 Championship in Kutaisi, Georgia.
There are six personnel changes to the Ireland U20 side that was pipped by England in March's final round of the U20 Six Nations - most of them enforced due to a number of untimely injuries.
With Jordan Larmour, Tommy O'Brien and Bill Johnston all missing the tournament through injury, Dublin University duo Jack Kelly and Colm Hogan return to the back-three, while St. Mary's young gun Conor Dean, a son of former Ireland and Lions out-half and current Ireland senior team manager Paul Dean, will make his U20 debut in the number 10 jersey.
Up front, Garryowen hooker Diarmuid Barron, a late addition to the Irish squad, is the only new cap, slotting in beside props Joey Conway and Charlie Connolly. John Foley and Caelan Doris, who both started against England, are nursing knocks at the moment, so Marcus Rea of Queen's University and Young Munster's Gavin Coombes join newly-appointed captain Paul Boyle in the back row.
Forwards Peter Cooper and Corinthians' Sean Masterson come back into the matchday 23 as replacements. Connacht sub-Academy player Masterson is the younger brother of senior Connacht back rower Eoghan and made his Ireland U20 debut against France in February. He started for the Ireland U19s side against Japan in April and last month captained the same side for the two-match tour in France. The selected bench also includes Angus Curtis, who impressed at out-half recently for the Ireland U19s, and fellow U20 debutant Alan Tynan - one of the real success stories of Young Munster's Ulster Bank League campaign.
Head coach Malone, who is assisted by Kieran Campbell, said: "The U20 World Championship is always an exciting competition and we are looking forward to the challenge ahead of us.
"We're looking forward to the game against Italy and starting the tournament. Having played them a few months ago in the Six Nations, we know they are not a team to be underestimated, but the team are excited, focused and determined to make a good start."
Back in February, Ireland emerged with a hard-fought 27-26 victory over the Italians in Prato, with backs Larmour (2) and O'Brien running in a trio of second half tries. eir Sport will broadcast Ireland's games in Georgia, while ITV are also televising the tournament and there will be live streaming for certain countries on the World Rugby website.
Meanwhile, Italy U20 coaches Carlo Orlandi and Alessandro Troncon have a good deal of continuity from this year's U20 Six Nations with ten starters from the Ireland game included for this rematch.
Strong-carrying number 8 Giovanni Licata is part of an unchanged back row, while Antonio Rizzi and Charly Trussardi are two snappy half-backs. The Azzurrini always bank on a strong scrum and their tighthead and captain Marco Riccioni comes into the tournament on a high after helping Calvisano win the Eccellenza title.
Italy have drawn one match and lost 11 against Ireland at U20 level, and they have struggled to make an impact at recent World Rugby U20 Championships, needing play-off wins in each of the last three years to finish 11th and avoid dropping down to the Trophy competition.
World Rugby U-20 Championship Fixtures
IRELAND U20: Jack Kelly (Dublin University/Leinster); Colm Hogan (Dublin University/Munster), Gavin Mullin (UCD/Leinster), Ciaran Frawley (UCD/Leinster), Calvin Nash (Young Munster/Munster); Conor Dean (St. Mary's College/Leinster), Jonny Stewart (Queen's University/Ulster); Joey Conway (UL Bohemians/Munster), Diarmuid Barron (Garryowen/Munster), Charlie Connolly (Dublin University/Leinster), Fineen Wycherley (Young Munster/Munster), Oisin Dowling (Lansdowne/Leinster), Marcus Rea (Queen's University/Ulster), Paul Boyle (Lansdowne/Leinster) (capt), Gavin Coombes (Young Munster/Munster).
Replacements: Ronan Kelleher (UCD/Leinster), Greg McGrath (Lansdowne/Leinster), Peter Cooper (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Jack Regan (UCD/Leinster), Sean Masterson (Corinthians/Connacht), Jack Stafford (Shannon/Munster), Angus Curtis (Queen's University/Ulster), Alan Tynan (Young Munster/Munster).
ITALY U20: Massimo Cioffi (SS Lazio Rugby 1927); Andrea de Masi (Benetton Treviso), Marco Zanon (Mogliano Rugby), Dario Schiabel (Lafert San Donà), Giovanni d'Onofrio (Rugby Benevento); Antonio Rizzi (Mogliano Rugby), Charly Vincenzo Ernst Trussardi (Clermont Auvergne); Danilo Fischetti (Unione Rugby Capitolina), Massimo Ceciliani (Delebio Rugby), Marco Riccioni (Patarò Calvisano) (capt), Niccolò Cannone (Florentia Rugby), Edoardo Iachizzi (Perpignan), Jacopo Bianchi (Vasari Arezzo), Lorenzo Masselli (Sitav Rugby Lyons), Giovanni Licata (Miraglia Rugby).
Replacements: Alberto Rollero (Sitav Rugby Lyons), Daniele Rimpelli (Patarò Calvisano), Dante Gavrilita (Patarò Calvisano), Lodovico Manni (Mogliano Rugby), Michele Lamaro (SS Lazio Rugby 1927), MatteoMaria Panunzi (Unione Rugby Capitolina), Filippo di Marco (L'Aquila Rugby Club), Andrea Bronzini (Rugby Viadana 1970).