Thursday 8 December 2016

Carolan's heroes march into World U-20 semi-finals

Ireland 35 Georgia 7

John Fallon

Published 16/06/2016 | 02:30

Johnny McPhillips celebrates after scoring a try Photo by Matt McNulty/Sportsfile
Johnny McPhillips celebrates after scoring a try Photo by Matt McNulty/Sportsfile

Nigel Carolan's fantastic U-20 side continues to break down barriers and last night became the first Irish side to win all three pool matches in the nine-year history of the competition.

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They will now get the chance next Monday against Argentina to become the first Irish side to reach the final of the World Rugby U-20 Championship.

Ilia Spanderashvili leaves the pitch after being shown a red card Photo by Matt McNulty/Sportsfile
Ilia Spanderashvili leaves the pitch after being shown a red card Photo by Matt McNulty/Sportsfile

England will take on South Africa in the other semi-final. Defending champions New Zealand have been eliminated at the pool stage for the first time.

Having already beaten the Baby Blacks and Six Nations grand slam winners Wales, Ireland might just have the cut of a side who could go the whole way.

Greg Jones catches the lineout Photo by Matt McNulty/Sportsfile
Greg Jones catches the lineout Photo by Matt McNulty/Sportsfile

They certainly have come some distance from the side which lost their opening two games in the Six Nations to Wales and France. Since then they have defeated England, Scotland, Italy, Wales, New Zealand and now Georgia.

No wonder Carolan paid tribute to his superb group of players and coaches as they marched into the semi-finals with a third straight win.

Hugo Keenan on his way to scoring a try Photo by Matt McNulty/Sportsfile
Hugo Keenan on his way to scoring a try Photo by Matt McNulty/Sportsfile

And the first bonus point win of the competition came despite making 13 changes to the side which defeated New Zealand last Saturday.

"There are no easy games in this tournament," said Carolan. "Coming into it, our focus was all about Wales and when we came over that hurdle, there was a great opportunity against New Zealand.

"We were always going to be a little bit concerned about what Georgia were going to bring because of the physicality, and how direct and how difficult they are to play against."

But Ireland didn't have it all their own way against a brave Georgian side who played most of the match with 14 men.

Flanker Ilia Spanderashvili was sent off after just eight minutes when he was adjudged to have lashed out at Irish lock Sean O'Connor

That ruined their excellent start which saw senior star Vasil Lobzhanidze dash over for a converted try after just five minutes.

Yet, the Georgians battled bravely and made Ireland work for their lead.

A superb try from winger Hugo Keenan (left) sent Ireland on their way. Johnny McPhillips then followed up a couple of penalties with a try four minutes from the break to make it 20-7 at half-time. A 54th-minute penalty from the out-half further stretched the lead and Terry Kennedy notched the third try a few minutes later. It took Ireland until the final play of the match to secure the bonus-point victory courtesy of Andrew Porter.

IRELAND - B Connon; T Kennedy, J O'Brien (S Daly 64), P Kiernan, H Keenan; J McPhillips (J Stockdale 64), N Saunders (S Kerins 73); J Bollard (A Porter 49), V O'Brien, V Abdaladze (A Coyle 49); E Mintern, S O'Connor; G Jones (C Gallagher 59; A McBurney 73), C Boomer (C Gallagher 25-30), K Brown (M Deegan 18).

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