Ireland U20’s slipped to a 21 – 22 defeat by Italy U20’s in their opening match in the 2017 World Rugby U20 Championship. Such is the nature of this fantastically compact tournament they will probably now need bonus point wins against Scotland and New Zealand if they are going to achieve a top four finish.

Having had a quick look at some of the other games today, this looks to be a particularly strong tournament so I’d guess they’ll be facing top quality opposition all the way down to the seventh place play-offs. Don’t worry, there is still plenty of excitement to come.

As for this game, Ireland have only themselves to blame. They were too slow out of the blocks and an improving Italy took full advantage racing to a 12 – 0 lead at the start of the second quarter with two well-taken tries. Their forwards rumbling over for Fischetti to touch down the first and Rizzi and Cioffi combined well to send Bianchi over for their second, converted by Rizzi.

Ireland U20’s debutant out half Conor Dean pulled back a penalty for Ireland in the 27th minute but Rizzi responded immediately with a drop goal to restore the Italians 12 point lead a minute later. With no further score in the first half, the teams turned round with Italy leading 15 – 0.

The proverbial boot up the hole appeared to have done the trick at half time as a much reinvigorated Ireland set about their opponents on the resumption and two almost identical tries from Calvin Nash, and a conversion by Dean saw the teams level at the 47th minute. Ireland looked to be on top and  Dean added a penalty on the 63rd minute to give Ireland an 18 -15 lead.

Don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not, but Ireland’s efforts definitely dipped after the hard working Marcus Rea was subbed and as both teams looked to their benches it appeared to be the Italians who were finishing stronger. Somewhat against the run of play Ireland extend their lead to 21 – 15 thanks to a penalty from Ciaran Frawley.

The Azzurri finally got their reward when their big lump of a centre, Zanon, found space to send Cioffi through to make it a one-point game. Cioffi converted his own try and though it remained a one-point game it was now Italy in the lead with three minutes left.

Ireland did work a penalty from distance, replacement hooker Ronan Kelleher doing well at the breakdown, but it was just too far for Frawley, the ball skewing wide, and with it went the game.

Despite the result, it was a thoroughly enjoyable game but plenty for Ireland to work on ahead of the meeting with Scotland on Sunday.

Congratulations to the Italians on their first win against Ireland at this age-grade.

Ireland U20: Jack Kelly, Colm Hogan, Gavin Mullin, Ciaran Frawley, Calvin Nash, Conor Dean, Jonny Stewart, Joey Conway, Diarmuid Barron, Charlie Connolly, Fineen Wycherley, Oisin Dowling, Marcus Rea, Paul Boyle, Gavin Coombes. Replacements: Ronan Kelleher, Greg McGrath, Peter Cooper, Jack Regan, Sean Masterson, Jack Stafford,  Angus Curtis,  Alan Tynan.

A chastening lesson for Ireland who I’m sure would be the first to admit that they underestimated a strong Italian side. The brutality of this tournament can mean one loss and you’re out but the losing bonus does give them a glimmer of a chance.

The current standings in Pool B are shown below.

Pool B Standings after Round 1
TEAM P W D L PF PA PD TF TA BP PTS
NEW ZEALAND U20 1 1 0 0 42 20 22 6 3 1 5
ITALY U20 1 1 0 0 22 21 1 3 2 0 4
IRELAND U20 1 0 0 1 21 22 -1 2 3 1 1
SCOTLAND U20 1 0 0 1 20 42 -22 3 6 0 0

The overall standings across all twelve teams are shown below with Ireland U20’s just slipping into eighth place on points difference.

Overall Standings after Round 1
TEAM P W D L PF PA PD TF TA BP PTS
ENGLAND U20 1 1 0 0 74 17 57 12 2 1 5
NEW ZEALAND U20 1 1 0 0 42 20 22 6 3 1 5
ARGENTINA U20 1 1 0 0 37 26 11 5 2 1 5
AUSTRALIA U20 1 1 0 0 24 17 7 3 2 0 4
ITALY U20 1 1 0 0 22 21 1 3 2 0 4
FRANCE U20 1 0 1 0 23 23 0 3 2 0 2
SOUTH AFRICA U20 1 0 1 0 23 23 0 2 3 0 2
IRELAND U20 1 0 0 1 21 22 -1 2 3 1 1
WALES U20 1 0 0 1 17 24 -7 2 3 1 1
GEORGIA U20 1 0 0 1 26 37 -11 2 5 0 0
SCOTLAND U20 1 0 0 1 20 42 -22 3 6 0 0
SAMOA U20 1 0 0 1 17 74 -57 2 12 0 0

#SUFTUM