Rugby

Expat rugby star McDonald to line up against Ireland

Dundalk-born Michael McDonald is a rising star of Australian rugby.

Dundalk-born Michael McDonald is a rising star of Australian rugby.

Irish-born scrum-half Michael McDonald is to line up against the country of his birth at the Under 20s Rugby World Championship in Argentina tonight Australian-time.

McDonald and his Junior Wallabies have just come through an impressive Oceanic Championship campaign in which they won all their matches and even produced a big win over New Zealand. But Ireland are also in form after completing a Grand Slam earlier this year. The two meet in Pool B.

“I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be a tough campaign especially with a pool like ours having Ireland, Italy and England in our first three games but really looking forward to it,” McDonald told The Irish Echo. “The team’s prepped really well.”

The 19-year-old moved from Louth to Australia at the age of 13.

“I can’t wait [to play Ireland]: really, really top opposition obviously coming off a really good Six Nations that they’ve just won but really looking forward to it, can’t wait to have a good game against them and the whole team is looking forward to that challenge. It’s such a good team to come up against in the early pool stages.”

Asked about any divided loyalties, the former Dundalk RFC man is focused on the job in hand.

“The biggest focus for me is I’m representing Australia with this team and I’ve got a job to do within the team. Obviously everyone in this team wants the same outcome, every individual’s got a job to do for the team and hopefully it’s successful.”

Despite playing in the green and gold of his adoptive home, McDonald says he gets plenty of support from his family and friends in Ireland.

“Of course, they’ll always be super proud of me wherever I go. It will be a tough one for my grandmother to get over,” he laughs.

“The support from back home has been awesome and my whole family has been really behind me.”

Australia came through a strong Oceanic Championship campaign in April and May. The Junior Wallabies won all three of their games against Japan, Fiji and the teenager stood out in their 24-0 beating of New Zealand.

McDonald even had the honour of captaining Australia against Fiji and he kicked 11 of the team’s 16 points.

“The Oceanic camp that we had proved to be very successful. Preparation has been really key for us but obviously there’s an end goal and that’s the World Cup so that’s our main focus,” he said. “I think any team at this World Cup could do it, they’re all top quality sides.”

McDonald plays his club rugby with Palmyra in Perth and is also a member of the Western Force squad.

Both sides are unbeaten heading into tonight’s clash. Kick-off 11.30pm AEST.

Best out, injury robs Ireland of inspirational skipper

Irish skipper Rory Best has not travelled to Australia with the Irish squad.

Irish skipper Rory Best has not travelled to Australia with the Irish squad.

The Irish squad have arrived in Queensland ahead of their three-test tour against Australia but captain Rory Best was not among the players.

A hamstring injury has sidelined the Ulster-man and Munster's Niall Scannell will replace the British and Irish Lions hooker in Ireland's squad.

Head coach Joe Schmidt explained that vice captains Johnny Sexton and Peter O'Mahony could share the captaincy for June's three-Test series against the Wallabies.

Before boarding the plane to Australia, boss Schmidt explained how his squad may handle the 35-year-old's absence.

"Rory's not going to tour," said Schmidt.

"He had a hamstring issue that kept him out of the game against Ospreys and we felt he was really going in the right direction and he would be ready for game one, definitely for game two. But he's just not quite where we need him to be.

"Because a number of these things have just become apparent, we've two vice captains in Peter O'Mahony and Johnny Sexton and a strong leadership group.

"It will depend a bit on selection and what we feel we need at any given time.

"It could be that Pete and Johnny take the team on and share the load."

Best picked up his hamstring concern in the build-up to Ulster's Champions Cup play-off with Ospreys, missing the Ravenhill province's 35-17 win on May 20.

Now the evergreen front-rower has failed to recover in time for Ireland's tour, leaving Leinster's Sean Cronin heading the queue to to start the first Test, in Brisbane next weekend.

Rob Herring is the other hooker in Ireland's touring party, with Schmidt now to decide who will skipper the team.

Schmidt's initial installation of Best as captain for the summer tour had pushed the Ulster star one step closer towards skippering Ireland at the 2019 World Cup.