England win U20s Grand Slam as Ireland fall short at the death
Ireland U20 10-14 England U20
Ireland U-20s’ attempts to spoil the English party fell agonisingly short as the visitors just about held on to a victory that sealed that the Grand Slam.
As was the case against Wales last weekend, Ireland will feel that this was a game they should have won, particularly after dominating the second half.
It was another steep learning curve for Nigel Carolan’s youngsters but it was one that again produced several positives.
Jordan Larmour was outstanding, Caelan Doris put in another stellar performance that had the packed crowd in Donnybrook scratching their heads at how good this 18-year-old is, while Fineen Wycherley carried relentlessly all evening. All of this was done under the watchful gaze of Joe Schmidt who will have been impressed by what he saw.
A lapse in concentration late in the first half cost Ireland, however, and for all of the positives that there were to take, Henry Walker’s decisive try won’t make for pleasant viewing in the review session. It was a killer blow after Bill Johnston had hauled Ireland back into the game.
England were first to strike after 17 minutes. Ireland were caught out at the front of the lineout as Jack Nay collected the ball unopposed before barrelling his way over.
There were question marks over whether or not the ball was thrown the required five metres but if Ireland felt aggrieved by that decision, worse was to follow later in the half after Max Malins landed the conversion to put England into a 7-0 lead.
Ireland recomposed themselves and with Johnston growing into the game, they began to gain a proper foothold. The Munster out-half pinged England right back in the corner with a perfectly-judged penalty five metres from their line.
The hosts were halted by England’s repeated indiscipline – the worst of which saw Doris tripped by Tom Curry when he was powering his way towards the whitewash. Bizarrely, the French referee didn’t show Curry a yellow card for an outrageously piece of cynical play.
Ireland couldn’t find a way through and had to settle for a 39th-minute Johnston penalty. It was no more than they deserved but just as they looked like seeing it out until half-time, they switched off and allowed England in for a second try.
Walker ran through a gaping hole in the defence and under the posts. Malins’ easy conversion gave England a 14-3 lead that they scarcely deserved. To concede that late in the half was a body blow but Ireland were on the front foot after the restart.
They had to remain patient but a Ciaran Frawley break sparked Ireland into life again. The rolling maul was a weapon all evening and as the latest one trundled its way over the line, it looked for all the world that a try had been scored but again the call didn’t go in Ireland’s favour as the ref adjudged that the ball was held up.
But with 15 minutes left on the clock, Ireland weren’t to be denied when Gavin Coombes burrowed his way over.
Johnston’s conversion left Ireland trailing by just four points but crucially all of the momentum was with them as their superior fitness began to tell. Ireland continued to press and they almost snatched the win with four minutes left when Larmour darted off the line and almost intercepted a floating pass.
Ireland got a final chance as the clocked ticked past the 80 and just like they had done earlier, they powered their way through a long series of phases and over the line only for the referee to again rule that the ball was held up.
It was a cruel way to finish a campaign that has had plenty of positives but the focus now turns to the Junior World Cup in June.
Ireland U20 – J Larmour; T O’Brien, G Mullin, C Frawley, C Nash (capt) (C Hogan 71); B Johnston (C Fitzgerald 71), J Stewart (J Stafford 60); J Conway (G McGrath 78), T McElroy (R Kelleher 52), C Connolly (M Burke 52); F Wycherley, O Dowling (G Coombes 32); J Foley (J Regan 63), P Boyle, C Doris.
England U20 – T Parton; D Morris, J Cokanasiga, W Butler (M Wright 49), S Aspland-Robinson; M Malins (T Brophy Clew78), H Randall; O Dawe (R Adams-Hale 49), H Walker, C Knight (J Morris, 49); J Nay (J Clegg, 58), N Isiekwe; T Curry (J Bayliss, 52), B Curry (J Blamire 73), Z Mercer (capt).
Referee – P Brousset (France)