Macken magic helps Irish to trump Scots
Ireland are poised for their best finishing position at the U-20 Junior World Championship after producing a remarkable finish to bury Scotland in a tense final pool game at Stadio Mario Battaglini in Rovigo on Saturday night.
They will now play South Africa for the second time in nine days when they meet in a fifth-place semi-final spot in Padua on Wednesday. Wales and Fiji meet in the other semi-final.
This is the fourth year of this tournament, which has been won each time by New Zealand, and Ireland's best finish was eighth in Japan two years ago.
On Saturday night, Ireland were hanging on to a 9-6 lead with seven minutes remaining and looking vulnerable when the moment of magic which the game was crying out for was produced by centre Brendan Macken.
Both defences had been on top until then but Macken broke and jinked his way through the middle with blistering pace before setting up his Blackrock College colleague Andrew Conway for the decisive score.
It was Conway's fourth try of the tournament and leaves him just one off the U-20 Junior tournament record of ten held by All-Black Zac Guilford.
Paddy Jackson's conversion of Conway's try saw Ireland pull 10 points ahead and they turned the screw with two more converted tries in the next five minutes.
Coach Mike Ruddock praised the efforts of his charges, who were playing their third game in six days.
"I think our game plan worked really well. We were totally in control," he said. "We knew we could wear them down with our scrummaging so I asked the boys to look at a lot of double drives in the scrum. Their back-row like to get up and tackle so we wanted to keep them honest, keep them down to make some room for our backs by scrummaging really hard. We also thought we could get a couple of penalties from it as well and just build our lead in an old-fashioned way."
Ruddock was particularly pleased with the way Ireland defended and feels that a benchmark has been set for the next clash with the Baby Boks.
"I thought our defence in particular improved against a very tough, industrious Scotland team who just wouldn't give up," he added.
"We kept the pressure on them with our defensive play and we controlled the game with our territorial game and we controlled the game up front with our scrum and our lineout drives.
"So total control in this one, even though it was a bit closer than I wanted it to be. Sometimes you've got to win it a little bit uglier and wait for the sexy rugby to come, and it came towards the end."
Ireland led 6-3 at the break and 9-6 going into the closing stages before they cut loose as Jackson and Duncan Weir traded penalties. Macken turned the game in Ireland's favour with his superb break for Conway to maintain his record of scoring a try in every game in this year's tournament.
Jackson added the points to put 10 between them and Ireland then cut loose to seal the win. Ian Henderson set up Luke Marshall with a superb break down the left and this time James McKinney converted having just come on.
And they finished in style, with replacements David Doyle and Daniel Qualter combining to send skipper Niall Annett over for a converted try.
Scotland pulled back a consolation score in the dying moments when Danny Gilmour finished a good move down the left but it was Ireland who were celebrating at the end as they prepare for a revenge mission when they face South Africa -- who defeated them 42-26 in the pool last week -- in Padua on Wednesday.
Ireland -- T O'Halloran (Galwegians) (C Gilroy, Dungannon, 65); A Conway (Blackrock), B Macken (Blackrock), L Marshall (Ballymena), A Boyle (UCD); P Jackson (Dungannon) (J McKinney, Queen's University, 76), K Marmion (University of Wales Institute Cardiff) (P Du Toit, UCD, 74); J Tracy (UCD), N Annett (Belfast Harlequins), T Furlong (Clontarf) (C Carey, Dungannon, 77); M Kearney (Clontarf) (D Qualter, Buccaneers, 70), I Henderson (Queen's University); E McKeon (Galwegians), D Gallagher (Dublin University) (D Doyle, UCD, 70), J Murphy (Lansdowne) ( S Buckley, Garryowen, 77).
Scotland -- G Bryce; S Atkin, M Bennett, D Gilmour, K Gossman (J Stevenson, 63); D Weir (S Edwards, 76), S Kennedy; A Allan (R Hislop, 63), D Cherry (R Ferguson, 42), C Phillips (G Hunter, 53); M Todd, R McAlpine (J Swanson, 53); M Eadie, H Watson, J Tyas.
Ref -- G Garne (England).