Ireland stutter past Azzurri after Daly try
Ireland U-20s 19 Italy U-20s 13
Published 12/03/2016 | 02:30
"It could be late in the game before we pull away but hopefully we're in that position."
Nigel Carolan's prediction earlier in the week didn't quite go according to plan as right up until the dying minutes, Ireland were forced to defend for their lives to preserve their second victory of the Championship.
After the stunning win over England last time out, expectations were high as Ireland returned to Donnybrook but the sparse crowd that did turn up (which included Joe Schmidt and his entire coaching staff) had to endure a poor stop-start spectacle.
Italy dominated the opening half and perhaps should have been further ahead than 13-6 and they paid the price for some missed chances as Ireland came storming back into the contest in the second half.
Captain James Ryan picked up another man-of-the-match award in a typically towering second-row display while openside flanker Will Connors led from the front all evening in what was a terrific performance in the back-row, but Carolan will no doubt have been frustrated that it took his side so long to click into gear.
It wasn't until Shane Daly's try after 51 minutes that Ireland regained a lead that they had coughed up after half an hour.
Ireland lacked direction in attack while their basic skills let them down time and time again which in truth has been a common theme in their earlier defeats.
Ulster winger Jacob Stockdale started his first game of the Championship and for a player who has played in the Pro12 in recent weeks, Ireland failed to get their main running threat into the game.
The scrum was an area of contention all evening and Conan O'Donnell felt the wrath of a referee who was hugely inconsistent when he was harshly sent to the sin bin for seemingly collapsing the set-piece shortly before the half-hour mark.
It looked for all the world that the Italian tighthead prop had driven in on the angle but as it was O'Donnell spent 10 minutes in the bin and his side suffered as they conceded 10 unanswered points in that period.
Carolan and his coaching staff will certainly question the referee's interpretation of what went on in the front-row but the Italians were the ones who appeared far more streetwise.
Brett Connon's second penalty cancelled out Leonardo Mantelli's effort in what was an error-strewn opening 20 minutes before Italy made their numerical advantage count.
Mantelli sent the resulting penalty from O'Donnell's collapsed scrum into touch and although Italy were stopped short of the line three times, they remained patient and Vincenzo Trussardi's pass put Giovanni Pettinelli over.
Mantelli converted and added another penalty before the break to leave the visitors 13-6 to the good - much to the delight of their animated coach and former Italy scrum-half Alessandro Troncon.
Whatever Carolan said to his players at half time had a telling impact as they hit back with 13 points without reply in a blistering 11-minute spell after the restart.
Connon fired over two penalties in quick succession before Ireland capitalised on a really poor mistake by Trussardi.
The scrum-half threw an ambitious pass in midfield and Connors easily picked it off before finding Conor O'Brien who was impressive throughout.
The centre ran an excellent line off Connors and showed a great turn of pace before sumptuously offloading for Daly to dot down.
With Ireland gaining the upper hand they failed to kick on and instead allowed Italy to remain in with a chance of snatching victory.
Carolan handed debuts to Ben Betts, Niall Saunders and Paul Kiernan and with the latter two joining Terry Kennedy on the pitch for the closing stages, it meant that Ireland finished the game with the sons of three former internationals on the pitch.
The Irish defence had to withstand a late barrage of pressure and they were extremely fortunate that a wide pass found a prop who knocked on to end Italy's hopes of grabbing their first win of the campaign.
Connon, who finished the game with 14 points to his name, sent a late penalty wide that would have sealed it but nevertheless Ireland held on for a victory that was rather uninspiring.
Their attentions now turn to Scotland next week and Carolan will no doubt be demanding a major improvement.
Ireland U-20s - B Connon; H Keenan (T Kennedy 68), S Daly (P Kiernan 72), C O'Brien, J Stockdale; J McPhillips, J Poland (N Saunders 72); A Porter, A McBurney, C O'Donnell; P Claffey, J Ryan (capt); C Gallagher, W Connors (B Betts 39-40), G Jones (M Deegan 68).
Italy U-20s - M Minozzi; P Bruno (L Masato 55), R Dal Zilo, M Zanon, L Sperandio; L Mantelli, V Trussardi; D Rempelli (G Amendola 70), M Manfredi (N Broglia h-t), M Riccioni; L Krumov (G Zilocchi 74) S Ortis (L Masselli 55); G Pettinelli, D Ciotoli (M de Marco 68), G Venditti.
REF - S Grove-White (SRU)