Megan Joyce in France
Ireland Under-20s secured an impressive opening victory against a physical Australian outfit in Pool B of their IRB Junior World Championship Opener, defeating the Southern Hemisphere heavy-weights 19-15 in front of 8,500 spectators in an atmospheric Vannes.
Ireland’s talisman of the Six Nations, Tom Daly, pushed his side ahead on the strike of the seventh minute through a converted penalty, awarded after playing a penalty advantage which saw the Irish breach the Australian midfield. The opening quarter then witnessed a flurry of reset scrums and handling errors with both sides looking for dominance at the set piece.
Another opportunity presented itself for Daly’s boot after Munster’s Ryan Murphy waltzed his way into the Australian 22, although the Lansdowne clubman subsequently struck wide of the posts following the rewarded penalty. Mike Ruddock’s young charges continued to press through lively carries from the pack which resulted in Leinster’s Steve Crosbie releasing Ulster’s Rory Scholes, who turned the Australian defence inside out for the breakthrough try before Daly added the extras.
The Wallabies responded quickly through numerous attacks from their forward contingent and were soon on the scoreboard following a converted penalty from centre Ulupano Seuteni on the half hour mark. Another surge from a lineout maul saw second-row Tom Staniforth barge over to bring the Australians within two points of the men in green, Seuteni narrowly missing his conversion attempt for a half time score of 10-8.
The opening of the second half witnessed Daly slicing the sticks to extend the Irish lead after captain Luke McGrath was awarded a penalty when hauled into an Australian ruck. Leinster’s Daniel Leavy immersed himself well in defence and produced a succession of turn over ball to halt Australian momentum, with Daly landing another penalty from 14 metres out to give the Irish an eight-point lead ahead of the closing ten minutes.
Disaster then struck through an Australian charge from Alex Northam, who capitalised on Ireland’s loss of possession to canter from 70 metres out and score under the posts, as replacement Luke Burton sealed the conversion to make it one-point the difference. However, it was to be Ireland’s day, with Daly fittingly converting a penalty on the 70th minute to secure a momentous start to Ireland’s campaign.
Speaking afterwards, Ulster’s try-scoring Scholes said: “We have aspirations of winning the competition. The guys showed real strength today and we will be going all guns blazing to secure victory over the Fijians come Sunday.”
Ireland U20s: Rory Scannell (Dolphin/Munster); Adam Byrne (UCD/Leinster), Thomas Farrell (Lansdowne/Leinster), Thomas Daly (Lansdowne/Leinster), Rory Scholes (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster); Steve Crosbie (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster) (capt); Peter Dooley (Lansdowne/Leinster), George McGuigan (Newcastle Falcons/Exile), Adam Boland (Lansdowne/Connacht), Peadar Timmins (UCD/Leinster), John Donnan (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Conor Joyce (Malone/Ulster), Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster), Ryan Murphy (Dolphin/Munster).
Replacements used: Daniel Leavy (UCD/Leinster) for Murphy (36 mins), Ryan Furniss (Worcester Warriors/Exile) for Boland (54-64, blood sub), Darragh Leader (Galwegians/Connacht) for Scannell, Edward Byrne (UCD/Leinster) for Dooley, Bryan Byrne (UCD/Leinster) for McGuigan, Mark Roche (Lansdowne/Connacht) for A Byrne (all 75), Sean McCarthy (Shannon/Munster) for Timmins (79). Not used: David Shanahan (Clontarf/Leinster).
A terrific win for the young Irish side, who ahead of the game were expected to be on the losing side come the eightieth minute. To topple a Southern Hemisphere opponent such as Australia in their Championship opener proves the strength of this slightly under-rated squad. Their ability to work together as a team was most impressive and enabled 1 to 15 to apply consistent pressure on the Wallabies, resulting in the team, as a collective unit, edging out Australia’s comeback.
The Ulster contingent, although sparse in numbers, performed well throughout the game. As always, Scholes took his try in effortless fashion, whilst when speaking to him afterwards admitted how it has been difficult training in the French heat, given his redhead complexion. The same could also be said for my brother, Conor, who will have to top up on the sun cream before Fiji on Sunday. Both Donnan and Joyce were solid in the forwards, with Donnan particularly impressive in the line-out, as the set-piece functioned superbly on the day.
Looking ahead to Fiji, the squad will surely use the momentum built during their win over a physically impressive Australian outfit to overcome another giant. Off the back of their trouncing to New Zealand, Fiji will be looking for their first Championship victory. It will be an exciting contest as the young men in green seek to build a reputation in this year’s tournament.