Saturday 20 July 2019

Grand Slam still on cards for U20s after Craig Casey brace helps dispatch Italy

Italy U20s 14 Ireland U20s 34

22 February 2019; Both packs prepare to engage in a scrum during the U20 Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Italy and Ireland at Stadio Centro d'Italia in Rieti, Italy. Photo by Daniele Resini/Sportsfile
22 February 2019; Both packs prepare to engage in a scrum during the U20 Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Italy and Ireland at Stadio Centro d'Italia in Rieti, Italy. Photo by Daniele Resini/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

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.

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

As soon as Ireland entered the 22, penalty after penalty followed and McNamara's charges sensed blood.

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

After Byrne thought he was over for the opening try only for the referee to call the scrum back for a reset, Ireland stayed calm 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 in turn found Casey.

The free-flowing move was indicative of the heads up rugby that this team has 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 add the easy extras for a comfortable 17-0 lead at half-time.

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 the stay patient as Matteo Nocera got over for an Italain try that Paolo Garbis converted.

Ireland never panicked 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 less, 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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