Ireland under-20s secure bonus point win over much-fancied England side in thrilling encounter
Ireland U20 35 England U20 27
Replacement Cormac Foley scored the bonus-point try a minute from time as Ireland claimed a first home Six Nations win over England for six years at Irish Independent Park.
In the early stages it seemed that a powerful England team would blow Ireland away after Cadan Murley and Tom Willis crossed for tries in the space of four minutes, but hooker Dylan Tierney-Martin scored twice and Scott Penney also dotted down on a memorable night for Noel McNamara’s side.
Had Ireland avoided the errors that mounted in the first-half they could well have won this game by more, but a stunning performance in defence in the final quarter with Michael Milne in the sin-bin meant they were fully deserving of the opening day victory.
Ireland had taken the lead through a Harry Byrne penalty in the fifth minute, but a huge mix up by Ireland when they attacked off a lineout in their own 22 allowed Murley to run in an easy first try. Marcus Smith converted for a 7-3 lead for the visitors.
It didn't take England long to stretch their lead even further. Ted Hill’s brilliant handling forced the linebreak near halfway and helped Tom Willis to England’s second try after 16 minutes and once again Smith was on the mark with the conversion, which put last year’s World Cup finalists 14-3 ahead.
A brilliant linebreak from Byrne from inside his own half saw Ireland come close to their opening try, but after they continued to hammer away at the English try-line, the pressure told and eventually hooker Tierney-Martin forced his way over on the half-hour mark. Byrne added the extras to leave Ireland trailing by four points.
Instead of building on that score Ireland conceded straight away when Josh Hodge claimed Byrne’s garryowen, and surged clear up the left to score the third English try, which Smith converted.
A Byrne penalty after England infringed at the breakdown pulled Ireland back to 21-13 with six minutes to go to half-time, and with every passing minute McNamara's side looked like they were more comfortable with the huge power of the England pack.
And two minutes from the interval a lovely sidestep saw Liam Turner broke through the defensive line again, and after the pack rolled through a few phases, Leinster back-row Penney found the base of the post for Ireland’s second try. Byrne missed his first kick of the night from the conversion, and Smith’s penalty on half-time gave England a 24-21 interval lead, which they were good value for considering their early dominance.
Ireland had had a few attempts at driving a maul over the English line in the opening half but they were penalised on both occasions, but there was to be some early success after the break for the home pack.
And after Byrne - who sat out the first few minutes of the half due to a head injury assessment - edged them into the corner with a penalty, Ireland took the lead for the first time early in the second-half when Tierney-Martin finished off a controlled driving lineout for Ireland.
Unfortunately for the home supporters, Byrne missed the conversion and the lead was a perilous one point, and another error from Ireland allowed Tom Hardwick to reclaim the lead for England from the tee.
The loss of captain David Hawkshaw was a big blow for Ireland nine minutes into the second period, but with John Hodnett carrying well, Byrne kicked Ireland back in front by 28-27 when England infringed, while a great lineout steal on his own line by Charlie Ryan kept England at bay.
Byrne then showed great defensive work to deny England another try, and Willis was held up over the try-line after the hour mark. But after prop Michael Milne was sin binned for the concession of two penalties Byrne missed a chance to give Ireland a four-point lead and Flannery was stopped inches short of a fourth Ireland try with nine minutes remaining, but Foley sealed the win Ireland deserved.
Scorers – Ireland: D Tierney-Martin (2), S Penney, C Foley tries; H Byrne 3 pens, 3 cons. England: C Murley, T Willis, J Hodge tries; M Smith 3 cons, pen; Tom Hardwick pen.
Ireland – J Flannery; C Phillips (R Russell 76), L Turner, D Hawkshaw (S French 49), J Wren; H Byrne (R Russell 40-43 HIA), C Casey (C Foley 75 HIA); J Wycherley (M Milne 56), D Tierney-Martin (J McKee 71), T Clarkson; C Ryan, N Murray (B Deeney 79); M Moloney (J Wycherley 64-74) (D McCann 76), S Penny, J Hodnett.
England – J Hodge; O Sleightholme, F Dingwall (c) (O Lawrence 56), T Hardwick, C Murley; M Smith (C Redpath 45), S Maunder (O Fox 69); O Adkins, N Dolly (B Atkins 74), M Street (J Heyes h-t); J Kpoku, A Coles (J Scott 61); T Hill, A Hinkley, T Willis (R Tuima 71).
Ref – Ludovic Cayre (FRU).