Italian job not enough as U-20s miss out on semi-final
Ireland U-20s 38 Italy U-20s 14
As the clock ticked towards half-time and with the Ireland 31-0 in front, for a brief, flickering moment, the impossible dream looked like it was on.
That was until Italy emptied their bench and scored a late try to puncture Ireland's momentum.
The bonus-point victory was never in doubt, but this mission was about that and much, much more as Noel McNamara's charges needed to rack up a big score to improve their -12 overall points difference.
Failing to get a losing bonus point in last weekend's defeat to Australia proved costly as the Junior Wallabies already had top spot wrapped up before a ball was kicked yesterday.
That left Ireland chasing the one available best-runners-up spot that would secure a place in next Monday's semi-finals. However, with their nearest rivals all on a considerably better points difference, the Grand Slam champions needed more than their 24-point margin of victory.
Injuries wreaked havoc with Noel McNamara's team, who were already without several front-liners before they left for Argentina and they suffered more setbacks throughout the tournament, with three more added to the list of walking wounded yesterday.
"We just wanted to come into the game and play our game and take one moment at a time - that's what we did for the whole 80 minutes," captain Liam Turner said afterwards. "I thought a few things didn't stick for us, but you can't question the effort in all three of our games so far. It was absolutely savage from the whole squad and the guys who flew over late from Dublin. I am really proud of the boys."
Ben Healy was the outstanding performer for Ireland as he brilliantly pulled the strings on the back of a ferocious effort from the pack that was led by the tireless Ryan Baird.
Healy was 100 per cent off the tee as he kicked 13 points to go with Ireland's five tries.
McNamara's men will now renew acquaintances with England on Monday evening as they chase a fifth-place finish.
Michael Milne got Ireland off to an ideal start with an early try and when Healy converted it, as well as adding a penalty, the result never looked in doubt.
Ciaran Booth had to be carried off on a stretcher after he was recklessly taken out from the side of a ruck when in the jackal position. World Rugby must look at this area of the game.
Tom Ahern followed him to the sideline before Angus Kernohan succumbed to the same fate during an attritional first half.
Cormac Foley and Azur Allison crossed for converted tries before Healy brilliantly sent Rob Russell over in the corner with a sensational no-look, reverse pass.
McNamara will have been disappointed that Italy got in late on however, with Alessandro Fusco scoring a try that Paolo Garbisi converted to trail 31-7 at half-time.
Ireland made a mess of the restart after the break and then conceded a penalty try for a scrum infringement.
But to their credit, Ireland never gave in and Baird powered over for a converted try that his performance merited, but it wasn't enough to advance to the last four.
Ireland U-20s - J Flannery; A Kernohan (J Wren 38), L Turner (capt), C Foley (D Ryan 78), R Russell; B Healy, C Reilly (M O'Reilly 78); J Wycherley (T Clarkson 44), J McKee (D Tierney-Martin 50), M Milne; T Ahern (C Ryan 31), R Baird; D McCann (L Clohessy 58), C Booth (N Murray 10), A Allison.
Italy U-20s - A Capuozzo; J Trulla, F Mori, D Mazza (G Bertaccini 45), C Lai; P Gabrisi (G Da Re 58), A Fusco; L Michelini (M Drudi 38-79), N Taddia (A Marinello 38), M Nocera (F Alongi 38); N C Stoian (A Zambonin 38), T Parolo; A Mauirzi (A Chianucci 56), D Ruggeri (capt), A Koffi (M Finotto 38).
REF - R Rasivhenge (South Africa)