Skipper Ryan inspires Ireland U20 comeback in stirring victory over England
A repeat of this remarkable win in Twickenham this evening will have Irish fans celebrating long into the night as Nigel Carolan’s U-20 side showed commendable character to turn what seemed would be a heavy defeat into a deserved victory.
Ireland, having lost their opening two games to Wales and France, looked set for another defeat when England extended their 17-6 interval lead with a drop-goal two minutes after the restart.
But Ireland, with captain James Ryan leading the way with an inspirational performance, clawed their way back into contention to secure a memorable win.
It’s only the second time that Ireland have won in England in the competition and augurs well when they go to Manchester in June for the World Cup.
Indeed, no other side had managed to defeat England in the competition since Ireland, with the likes of Simon Zebo on board that season, triumphed in Gloucester in 2010.
Ireland, bidding to get their campaign up and running after successive losses to Wales and France, enjoyed plenty of possession in the opening half but found themselves 17-6 adrift at the break.
Handling errors played a big part in undermining Ireland’s efforts and England were ruthless in punishing mistakes as they looked to build on their win over Italy last time out, having lost their opening game away to Scotland.
reland were turned over on their first scrum and it led to England’s opening try after just four minutes when flanker Sam Smith powered over off a lineout. Northumberland native Johnny McPhillips pulled back a penalty for Ireland but the Ulster man managed just two from four kicks in the opening half.
That meant that good work by Ireland went unrewarded and they trailed 14-3 after 22 minutes despite enjoying 69pc possession. Matthew Protheroe set up the second try for winger George Perkins but the Gloucester clubman gave England a 17-6 interval advantage when Irish prop Conan O’Donnell was binned just the break.
Protheroe extended their lead two minutes after the restart with a drop-goal and they seemed set to pull away.
But with Ryan leading by example and Ireland building the phases by cutting out the mistakes, the complexion of the game changed and Carolan's men grew in confidence.
They got back in the game with a penalty to the corner which was finished by Ryan spotting a gap off the lineout and diving over. McPhillips was unable to convert but Ireland suddenly had a pep in their step with England flanker Sam Smith in the bin.
The try which really got Ireland back in the hunt was superbly worked with a good move being finished by quality passes from Conor O’Brien and Brett Connon to put Matthew Byrne over in the right corner.Connon, a Newcastle Falcons player, landed the touchline conversion on his home pitch to cut the gap to 20-18 after 54 minutes.
England piled on the pressure after that and looked set to extend their lead but Ireland defended superbly and broke from a five-metre lineout to go up the other end and surge in front for the first time after 67 minutes with prop Andrew Porter scoring after some superb handling in a flowing movement. Connon missed the relatively easy conversion and it left the score at 23-20.
Ireland then closed out the game with England replacement Stan South red-carded for a tip tackle on Ireland flanker Will Connors. Connon put six between them with as many minutes remaining and they never looked like losing that lead in the dying moments.