Ireland secure bonus-point win over Italy but chances of a semi-final berth look remote
Ireland U-20s 38 Italy U-20s 14
Ireland U-20s' hopes of advancing to the Junior World Cup semi-final have all but been extinguished – despite comfortably beating Italy in their final pool game.
Noel McNamara's side were chasing a bonus point win as well as a sizeable points haul that would improve their overall difference in their quest to secure the best runners-up spot.
Having began the day with a points difference of -12, Ireland needed a big win and although they got one, the 24-point improvement that they managed is highly unlikely to be enough to overhaul either New Zealand or South Africa.
Ireland bounced back well from defeat to Australia last weekend and although they were forced to make plenty of changes, they proved that there is plenty of strength in depth in this year's crop.
McNamara's charges scored five tries in total as the pack, led by the tireless Ryan Baird, put in an immense shift while outside of them, Ben Healy expertly pulled the strings from out-half.
Ireland came flying out of the traps and their bright started was rewarded after seven minutes when Michael Milne powered over after his side clocked up the phases. Healy added the extras for 7-0 lead.
As has been a theme throughout the tournament, the injury problems continued to mount for Ireland, as Ciaran Booth had to be stretchered off after he was recklessly taken out from the side when in the jackal position.
Tom Ahern followed him to the sideline before Angus Kernohan succumbed to the same fate during what was an attritional first half.
Despite the setbacks, Ireland didn't lose focus of the task at hand and shortly after Healy added a tenth minute penalty, Cormac Foley got over for a second try, which his out-half again converted.
Ireland had to withstand a barrage of Italian pressure, but the Grand Slam champions cranked it up again and went down the other end of the pitch and crossed for a third try, this time through No 8 Azur Allison.
Healy added the easy extras from in front as the Munster Academy out-half's influence continued to grow on proceedings.
It was the impressive Healy who was central to Ireland securing the bonus point three minutes before the break.
The forwards made the hard yards before the ball was shipped wide by Jake Flannery and then by Healy who threw a sumptuous no-look reverse pass for Rob Russell, who finished well in the corner.
Healy's confidence was soaring and he bisected the posts with the touchline conversion, but Ireland couldn't see it out until half-time as they allowed Alessandro Fusco over a try that Paolo Garbisi converted to trail 31-7 at the break.
Ireland made a mess of the restart and before they knew it, Italy were in again when the referee was quick to award them a penalty try for a scrum infringement.
The two converted tries seriously damaged Ireland's quest to rack up a healthy points difference, but to their credit, they did hit back after 55 minutes.
Again, it was all about the pack as they battered their way at the blue ball before it eventually crumbled when Baird burrowed over from close range. Healy added the extras for a 38-14 advantage.
Both teams began to tire to the searing Argentinian heat as the game became littered with sloppy, uncharacteristic errors.
Ireland finished the game as they started it, camped in the Italy 22, but it almost certainly won't be enough to secure that semi-final spot, as they now wait to see who they will face in Monday's play-off.
Ireland U-20s - J Flannery; A Kernohan (J Wren 38), L Turner (capt), C Foley (D Ryan 78), R Russell; B Healy, C Reilly (M O'Reilly 78); J Wycherley (T Clarkson 44), J McKee (D Tierney-Martin 50), M Milne; T Ahern (C Ryan 31), R Baird; D McCann (L Clohessy 58), C Booth (N Murray 10), A Allison.
Italy U-20s - A Capuozzo; J Trulla, F Mori, D Mazza (G Bertaccini 45), C Lai; P Gabrisi (G Da Re 58), A Fusco; L Michelini (M Drudi 38-79), N Taddia (A Marinello 38), M Nocera (F Alongi 38); N C Stoian (A Zambonin 38), T Parolo; A Mauirzi (A Chianucci 56), D Ruggeri (capt), A Koffi (M Finotto 38).
REF - R Rasivhenge (South Africa)