Wednesday 17 July 2019

Grandstand finish seals Slam for U-20s

Wales U-20s 17 Ireland U-20s26

Ireland's Colm Reilly gets past Cai Evans of Wales to score a game winning late second half try. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Ireland's Colm Reilly gets past Cai Evans of Wales to score a game winning late second half try. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

CIan Tracey

A grandstand finish fitting for the Grand Slam champions.

For just the second time in this country's history, the Ireland U-20s swept all before them to be crowned Six Nations winners in the most stunning fashion.

The future of Irish rugby is in safe hands as Noel McNamara's outstanding young team showed remarkable resilience to beat Wales in Colwyn Bay for the first time.

Trailing 10-0 in the first half, Ireland fought back before they had to come from behind late in the second half to seal the victory.

Team Ireland celebrate with the cup after winning the U20 Six Nations Championship. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Team Ireland celebrate with the cup after winning the U20 Six Nations Championship. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

A try from Jonathan Wren on the stroke of half-time proved crucial as was Dylan Tierney-Martin's just after the break before two late scores from Colm Reilly and Thomas Clarkson sent the sizeable travelling support into raptures.

In Scott Penny, Ireland had the best player on the pitch and the hugely talented flanker was ably assisted by John Hodnett, who, as he has done throughout the tournament, carried relentlessly.

Craig Casey and Harry Byrne were late withdrawals and even without their first-choice 9-10-12 axis, Ireland's strength in depth came to the fore once again.

Not for the first time, the Irish scrum was a powerful weapon as they made another massive statement.

"A hell of a lot of players have worked very hard, not least the players but there is a big management team attached to this team," a delighted McNamara said.

"It was a just reward for them from the medics, our injury profile has been very good all through the campaign, how the players have been managed especially the work of the strength and conditioning lads. They deserve a lot of praise but predominantly the players.

Ireland Captain Charlie Ryan lifts the cup after winning the U20 Six Nations Championship. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Ireland Captain Charlie Ryan lifts the cup after winning the U20 Six Nations Championship. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

"You have to say, the resolve they showed at the end... I think Colm (Reilly) and Jake (Flannery) deserve particular praise for how they went at 9 and 10. They really upped the tempo of the game. Wales struggled to deal with it from that point."

Ireland withstood the early pressure until the 11th minute, when the hosts struck for the opening try through Aneurin Owen, which Cai Evans converted.

The TMO then came to Wales' aid twice in as many minutes as Penny was adjudged to have dotted the ball just short of the whitewash.

From the resulting scrum, Seán French powered towards the line, only for the TMO to again rule that the ball was shy.

Just as it looked like Ireland would build on that, they were pinged for not releasing on halfway and Evens stepped up to brilliantly strike the ball between the posts.

10-0 down after half an hour, Ireland's sloppiness was beginning to cost them, but they never deviated from the expansive game-plan that had served them so well and eventually it paid off.

Liam Turner of Ireland, right, and injured Captain David Hawkshaw celebrate after winning the U20 Six Nations Championship. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Liam Turner of Ireland, right, and injured Captain David Hawkshaw celebrate after winning the U20 Six Nations Championship. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

With a minute of the half left, Wales switched off and Ireland's back-line clicked and scored a sensational try.

It all came from Angus Kernohan, who was waiting for a chance to show off his searing pace, and the Ulster winger seized his opportunity as he danced his way around the Welsh defence.

With Wales scrambling, Ireland quickly recycled the ball and moved it wide where Penny cleverly drew in the last defender before playing a lovely pass to Wren, who did well to hold his width and score. Healy made no mistake with the conversion to leave Ireland just three points (10-7) behind at the break.

Deliver

The message at half-time was simple: 'more of the same' and it didn't take McNamara's side long to deliver on that.

Seven minutes after the restart Tierney-Martin showed great awareness to pick the ball at the base of the ruck and run clear to score. Healy's conversion bisected the uprights as Ireland went into a 14-10 lead for the first time.

Wales were handed an immediate chance to hit back, but this time Evans' radar was off as he pushed the kick wide. It was a let-off for Ireland.

Penny came to his side's rescue with an outstanding turnover deep inside his own 22 and from there, Ireland launched a superb counter-attack. They thought they were over for their third try after 54 minutes as French combined brilliantly with Kernohan, only for the TMO to spot a slight forward pass.

Wales went from looking dead and buried to putting themselves back in front as Jac Morgan scored their second try with Evans again adding the extras.

Trailing 17-14, Ireland conceded another penalty at the breakdown but Evans' kick drifted narrowly wide.

Ireland were under pressure when Wales cut through their defence and they had Kernohan to thank for forcing a turnover penalty close to his own line.

With time very much against them, Ireland pulled it out of the fire and it was worth the wait. Reilly spotted a gap around at the edge of the ruck and the scrum-half darted through to score. Flannery's well-struck conversion came back off the post.

Nevertheless, Ireland led 19-17 with seven minutes remaining and they expertly made sure of the victory when Clarkson powered over for a try that Flannery converted as Ireland wrote themselves into the history books as Grand Slam champions.

Wales U-20s - C Evans; T Lewis, T Thomas-Wheeler, A Owen (M Llewellyn 73), I Davies (R Conbeer 51); S Costelow, D Buckland; R Davies, D Lake (capt) (W Griffiths 51), B Warren (N English 73); E Scragg (J Price 51), T Williams; E Thomas (I Rhys Davies, 73), J Morgan, I Rees.

Ireland U-20s - J Flannery; A Kernohan, L Turner, S French, J Wren; B Healy (R Russell 63), C Foley (C Reilly 63); J Wycherley (C Reid 59), D Tierney-Martin (J McKee 63), T Clarkson; C Ryan, N Murray (R Baird 49); M Moloney, S Penny, J Hodnett (D McCann 71).

REF - C Ridley (England)

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