Too few good men as punishing schedule hurts injury-hit U20s
Ireland 17 Australia 45
If you were in any doubt about the brutal nature of the Under-20 World Cup then yesterday's instalment from Santa Fe would have cleared it up for you. Before you set foot on the plane for these gigs you need a break on the injury front.
Ireland were minus four nailed-on starters when the squad was picked, a process that was delayed until the last possible minute given the rate at which lads were falling over in training.
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Would you believe it, they're still falling over. By the time Ireland had completed a remarkable job last week on an England side who had enough firepower to blow them out of the water, they had lost another two backs in full-back Iwan Hughes and centre Sean French - their tour is over - and number eight Azur Allison was carted off with concussion. It remains to be seen if he features again.
Roll on to yesterday and the hits kept coming. Ronan Watters, who got a start in Allison's absence, was gone with concussion inside the first quarter. By the end Ireland had two hookers and two scrum halves on the field. One of the latter was replacing Craig Casey who had struggled for a fair while with what appeared to be a quad injury. Given his mindset he'd happily make himself available regardless of his condition, but you'd hope that won't be necessary.
The best bit was that despite being allowed to put your entire travelling squad on the bench, Ireland had only three props on duty yesterday because tight head Charlie Ward, who ruptured his hamstring at Christmas, tweaked it in a warm-up on Friday. That Ward travelled at all with no gas in the tank illustrated how dodgy things were getting.
We wonder if the review of this competition might wake World Rugby up to the realities of life. This is brutally physical rugby played in a crazily compressed time schedule - Ireland have Italy on Wednesday, their third game in eight days - by too few men. The sane thing to do, if it is to continue, is extend both the schedule and the size of the squads. Or else scrap it.
The 'budget is king' vibe was reinforced yesterday in the match coverage. You felt for referee Christopher Ridley. He jumped the gun in giving Casey a try for Ireland in the first half that brought them back when they had been trailing 10-0. It looked long odds that he had actually got the ball down. But the protocol demands clear evidence to change the decision, and there wasn't any because there were not enough camera angles.
Thereafter the ref was calling for TMO assistance on every other incident, to be sure to be sure. Except that the logistical shortcomings of the broadcaster only put him in more grey areas. Then he stopped.
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It's possible that Ryan Baird would not have seen red for his demolition of Australian out-half Will Harrison had there been a better camera angle.
Yes, he cleaved his man, but without the angle Mr Ridley was asking for, you could feel his unease in pulling out red. Bye bye Baird, hello exhaustion for those left behind. Ironically the try that sunk 14-man Ireland, after they had done brilliantly to lead 17-10 on 56 minutes, had a final pass that was forward, but the TMO wasn't asked to intervene. And Ireland collapsed.
They will be angry with themselves for the way the junior Wallabies rattled in another four touch-downs in the last quarter, but there were extenuating circumstances. Putting that stuff behind them ahead of the Italy game will not be straightforward. Firstly there is the business of keeping morale up when you can see the body bags being delivered. Secondly is the challenge of dealing with an Italy side who may not be world beaters, but managed to shunt Scotland into last place in this season's Six Nations and ran England to a point last night.
They will have a massive scrum. Ireland need fit bodies, and a game plan that might bring a bonus point win with a significant investment in their points difference column to make the semi-finals.
The bad news is that if they can't scale that peak then they still will go to Rosario for the rearranging of deckchairs that is the squabble for minor placings, and jockeying for position at next year's event. You'd wonder if that will be carried out in more benign circumstances.
Scorers - Ireland: C Casey, S Moore tries; J Flannery pen, 2 cons
Ireland: R Russell (M Healy 56); A Kernohan, L Turner, S Moore (C Foley 61), J Wren (D Adamson 71); J Flannery, C Casey (C Reilly 61); J Wycherley (M Milne 56), D Tiernan-Martin (J McKee 59), T Clarkson, C Ryan (capt), R Baird (RC 20), D McCann, J Hodnett (C Murray 61), R Watters (C Booth 17)
Referee: Chris Ridley (England)
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