Thursday 26 April 2018

Byrne pulls strings as Irish surge to record triumph

Italy U-20 15 Ireland U-20 47

Jack Owens goes over to score a try during Ireland's victory over Italy
Jack Owens goes over to score a try during Ireland's victory over Italy
Jack Owens, celebrates with team-mate Greg O'Shea after scoring his side's try
Ireland's Fergal Cleary is tackled by Maicol Azzolini, left, and Davide Zanetti of Italy
Zack McCall, on his way to scoring a try
Alex Thompson, competes in a lineout

John Fallon

We'd settle for this in Rome today. Conditions will undoubtedly be a lot better than the snow-covered Stadio Lamarmora in Biella, but the Irish U-20s adapted and ran in seven tries.

They didn't have it all their own way against a gutsy Italian side who were only six points adrift approaching the interval.

But Ireland were much more clinical than their hosts, and once they got on top up front it was always on the cards that coach Nigel Carolan would make a winning start.

Seven players touched down as Ireland recorded their biggest ever total against the Italians in the Six Nations.

The game only went ahead because members of the local Biella club spent the day shovelling several inches of snow off the surface and while it inevitably developed into a quagmire, Ireland did not allow the conditions to thwart them.

Having drawn in Italian two years ago, Ireland must have feared another testing night when their hosts made a dream start.

Scrum-half Luca Petrozzi broke from deep and while his opposite number Nick McCarthy got back to nab him, the Irish skipper couldn't prevent the offload to flanker Dennis Bengamin who ran in by the posts before going over with a swan dive.

The Irish response was good. They sensed they had an edge up front and went to the right corner with a penalty. Alex Thompson won the lineout and when they got the drive going, flanker Josh Murphy got the touchdown.

Ross Byrne landed the touchline conversion to kickstart a good night with the boot, with his tactical kicking in open play constantly forcing the Italians on the back foot.

But Italy made their attacks count, with Maicol Azzolini adding to his earlier conversion with a penalty from 40 metres on the left.

Once again Ireland responded well and attacked out wide before Garry Ringrose made the hard yards through the cover and offloaded for Greg O'Shea to score a fine try which Byrne converted to put Ireland 14-10 up after 16 minutes.

Ireland continued to press forward and extended their lead 11 minutes from the break with another good lineout drive, Murphy winning the ball this time and flanker Rory Moloney supplying touchdown.

But Italy refused to wilt and created an excellent try through good running and good hands for winger Luca Sperandio to score in the right corner, much to the delight of the home crowd of about 700.

Ireland lost try-scorer O'Shea to injury after a heavy collision but they finished the half with a fourth try when hooker Zack McCall blocked down a kick on the right wing and had the legs to sprint away and score, with Byrne's conversion making it 28-15 at the interval.

Ireland put further daylight between the sides five minutes after the restart. Byrne continued to control proceedings at out-half in an excellent display and he and replacement Joey Carbury were the last hands in a good move which put full-back Billy Dardis over in the right corner.

Ireland never looked back after that and the Italian challenge wilted as the pitch continued to disintegrate on a freezing night.

Team captain McCarthy got in on the scoring act when he spotted a gap after another good lineout drive, with Byrne converting from the left wing to make it 40-15 with 15 minutes remaining.

Replacement Cian Romaine completed the rout in the closing stages and Byrne made it six from seven conversions to crown an impressive display.

Italy - G de Santis; L Sperandio, M Gabbianelli, E Lucchin, Y Agbasse (T Beraldin 73); M Azzolini (M Minozzi 63), L Petrozzi (R Raffaele 45); D Dallavalle (F Pavesi 63), L Luus (V Barbuscia, 73), P Buinfiglio (E Makelara 75); D Zanetti, D Fragnito (U D'Onofrio 68); M Archetti, R Giammarioli, D Bergamin (M Cortnelli 59).

Ireland - B Dardis; G O'Shea (J Carbury, 35), G Ringrose, F Cleary (S Arnold, 65), J Owens; R Byrne, N McCarthy (J Cullen, 68); J Loughman (M Lagan 68), Z McCall (A McBurney 65), O Heffernan (C O'Donnell 59); D O'Connor (C Romaine 59), A Thompson; J Murphy, R Moloney, L Dow (N Timoney 40).

Ref - D Jones (Wales).

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