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Casey's brace helps Ireland U-20s march on

Italy U-20s 14 Ireland U-20s 34

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Ireland's Niall Murray wins possession from a lineout. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland's Niall Murray wins possession from a lineout. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland's Niall Murray wins possession from a lineout. Photo: Sportsfile

Not much was made of this year's Ireland U-20s before the Six Nations began, but three wins on the bounce has ensured that everyone is now sitting up and taking note.

Their latest victory was a clinical display that saw them demolish Italy and return home with a precious bonus point that keeps them top of the table.

There were outstanding performers all over the pitch as Noel McNamara's youngsters went toe-to-toe with a physical Italian pack that had no answer to Ireland's pace and power.

Craig Casey scored a try in either half and the electric scrum-half's partnership with Harry Byrne was central to the win.

The exciting half-back pair had their pack to thank for setting the platform as the front-row trio of Josh Wycherley, Dylan Tierney-Martin and Thomas Clarkson were immense again.

Charlie Ryan put in a massive shift in the engine-room, while Scott Penny and Martin Moloney were relentless in the back-row.

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Ireland's Harry Byrne. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland's Harry Byrne. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland's Harry Byrne. Photo: Sportsfile

The tone was set from the fourth minute when Ireland's powerful scrum had Italy in all sorts of trouble, and the hosts conceded a penalty.

As soon as they entered the 22, Italy began to give away penalty after penalty. McNamara's charges sensed blood.

Instead of taking the three points on offer, captain David Hawkshaw, who was outstanding, opted for the scrum.

Byrne thought he was over for the opening try only for the referee to call the scrum back for a reset.

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Ireland stayed calm however, and ran the same move. This time Byrne was stopped just short, but the out-half did well to recycle the ball for Casey, who sniped over.

Byrne's conversion put Ireland into a 7-0 lead inside the opening 10 minutes.

They then had to withstand a barrage of pressure until the pack came up with a crucial turnover penalty.

That put the visitors back into the ascendancy and when Jake Flannery's dancing feet created the space, Byrne's lovely flat pass sent hooker Tierney-Martin away and he found Casey.

The free-flowing move was indicative of the heads-up rugby that this team have been playing all tournament and it was a joy to watch.

Byrne struck a penalty after 25 minutes to extend his side's lead as Italy's discipline went out the window.

Ireland were dominating all over the pitch and they made it count on the scoreboard just before the break when Penny cleverly scored against the post, which allowed Byrne to add the easy extras for a comfortable 17-0 half-time lead.

Byrne pushed Ireland further in front seven minutes after the restart following a powerful Hawkshaw break.

Italy were still struggling in the scrum and Luca Franceschetto had barely entered the fray when he was shown a yellow card for an infringement.

Ireland quickly made the most of their advantage as Casey scored his second try after superb play from Moloney.

Byrne converted to open up a 27-0 advantage and as the clock ticked beyond the hour, it was only a matter of time before Ireland got the bonus point.

They had to stay patient as Matteo Nocera got over for a try that Paolo Garbis converted.

Ireland never panicked though and with 10 minutes left Hawkshaw crashed over for a try that his performance deserved. Ben Healy, who had come on for his debut, added the extras.

In the closing stages Jacopo Trulla was sent to the bin for a shoulder charge and despite finishing the game with a man fewer, Italy had the final say as Marco Butturini scored a second converted try.

It mattered little though as Ireland maintained their unbeaten run and now have two weeks to prepare for a tough test against France.

Italy U-20s - G Da Re; E Mastandrea (J Trulla 52), M Moscardi, F Mori, M Mba; P Garbisi, L Citton (M Zuliani 58); M Drudi (L Franceschetto 55), A Marinello (M Bonanni 75), A Alongi (M Nocera 52); C Stoian, T Parolo (M Butturini 65); A Chianucci (G Piva 52), D Ruggeri, A Foffi.

Ireland U-20s - J Flannery (R Russell 67); A Kernohan, L Turner, D Hawkshaw (capt), J Wren; H Byrne (B Healy 74), C Casey (C Foley 74); J Wycherley (C Reid 67), D Tierney-Martin (B Scannell 67), T Clarkson (M Milne, 67); C Ryan, N Murray (B Deeny 65); M Moloney (R Watters 74), S Penny, J Hodnett.

REF - C Evans (Wales).


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