U-20s produce amazing fightback to see off Welsh
Ireland U20 - 26 Wales U20 - 25
The experience of coming from behind to defeat England in Newcastle in the Six Nations stood to Ireland in Manchester last night as they staged an astonishing comeback to get their World Rugby U-20 Championship off to a flying start.
With New Zealand looming here at the Manchester City Academy Stadium on Saturday, Ireland's tournament looked set for a premature end when they fell 17-0 down after 20 minutes against the Six Nations grand slam winners.
But Ireland, who also came from behind to defeat Italy and Scotland in the Six Nations, have learned not to panic and coach Nigel Carolan said the win over England had been factor in them turning things around.
"We didn't panic that evening against England and I knew there was big performance in these if we could get into our rhythm.
"We are a very good side but we just made it a little bit difficult for ourselves giving Wales a three-try advantage at the start. And at 17-3 it looked like it was going to be an uphill battle.
"But we started to find our rhythm there towards the end of the first half. We took that into the second half and we were the dominant side in the second half. Bearing in mind that we had to endure some unbelievable pressure in the last ten minutes."
Ireland had leaders all over the pitch who stepped forward and turned the game around, capably led by captain James Ryan. Add in a superb display from No 8 Max Deegan, flanker Greg Jones, hooker Adam McBurney, debutant out-half Bill Johnston, centres Conor O'Brien and Shane Daly, along with outstanding full-back Jacob Stockdale.
"We like to do things the difficult way," added Carolan. "But these are young guys, they are learning and they are growing. We made a lot of mistakes in the first half. But at the same time there's so many more positives out of that game than anything else."
Ireland could hardly have endured a worse start as Wales got on the front foot and flanker Shaun Evans, exciting winger Keelan Giles and scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams raced in for tries in the opening 19 minutes.
But Ireland never panicked and tries from hooker McBurney and Stockdale cut the gap to 17-15 at the interval before Carolan's men went on to dominate the second half.
Johnston, showing all the attributes which make him such an exciting prospect, settled Ireland with a drop-goal after 25 minutes, and then landed two penalties after the restart to edge them in front for the first time.
Superb handling involving Ryan, hooker McBurney and centre O'Brien saw Stockdale go over for his second try 13 minutes from the end after a brilliant move. Johnston's conversion from the left touchline missed the target, leaving Ireland defending a six-point lead in the dying moments.
And they endured a nervous finish when Giles got over for his second try two minutes from the end but replacement Billy McBryde was unable to land the extremely difficult conversion which would have won the match.
Ireland sealed the win inside the Welsh half and will now turn their attentions to Saturday back in the Manchester City Academy Stadium when they will hope to become the first Irish men's side to defeat New Zealand. The manner in which they secured this win would suggest they might just be capable of something special in this tournament.
Ireland - J Stockdale; M Byrne, S Daly, C O'Brien (J O'Brien 77), H Keenan; B Johnston, S Kerins; A Porter, A McBurney (V O'Brien 77), C Kenny (B Betts 6); C Gallagher, J Ryan; G Jones, D Aspil (K Brown 70), M Deegan.
Wales - R Williams; T Williams, J Thomas, H Millard, K Giles; D Jones (J Evans 65), R Morgan-Williams (D Smith 65); C Domachowski (R Fawcett 72), D Hughes (L Belcher 44), D Lewis (L Brown 65); S Lewis-Hughes, A Beard; T Phillips, S Evans (J Macleod 30-40, 65), H Keddie.
Ref - P Williams (New Zealand)