Ireland (15) 26
TRY: Adam McBurney, Jacob Stockdale (2). CON: Bill Johnston. PEN: Bill Johnston (2). DG: Bill Johnston.
Wales (17) 25
TRY: Shaun Evans, Keelan Giles (2), Reuben Morgan-Williams. CON: Dan Jones. PEN: Dan Jones.
Ireland U20’s staged a remarkable comeback, to overcome a seventeen point defect, beating the reigning Six Nations Champions, Wales, 26 – 25 on Tuesday evening at the Manchester City Academy Stadium.
Adam McBurney and Jacob Stockdale both crossed in the first half half, with Stockdale touching down again late in the second period. Out-half Bill Johnston added a conversion, two penalties and a drop goal.
I’d predicted a slow start from Ireland with Wales to edge the opening encounters, but I certainly didn’t think it would be as one sided as that which transpired. Ireland were simply woeful in the first quarter losing all shape in defence and slipping off tackles as the Welsh ran in three tries.
It started badly, with Ireland losing prop Conor Kenny to injury after five minutes, and got progressively worse as Shaun Evans, Keelan Giles and Reuben Morgan-Williams split the Irish defence with ease. The only positive from the Irish perspective being that Dan Jones had an off day from the tee, the Welsh out-half only converting one of the tries.
Ireland dug deep and concentrated on keeping the ball. Their play was a far cry for the high risk rugby they played during the Six Nations but it was effective as they kept the Welsh pinned in their own territory for much of the remainder of the half.
A Bill Johnston drop goal on the 23rd minute looked scant reward for a period of sustained pressure but Ireland kept rumbling the ball up through the forwards with McBurney, James Ryan and Max Deegan all prominent. It was dull stuff, dull but effective.
The pack finally got their reward when, after several attempts, the impressive McBurney touched down off the back of a maul to give Ireland their opening try. Johnston missed the conversion to leave Wales leading 17 – 8 as the clock ticked down towards the break.
However, the whistle didn’t come quickly enough for the Welsh, and a break by Conor O’Brien ended with the centre sending Jacob Stockdale over for Ireland’s second try to further close the gap. Johnston added the extras and the teams turned round with the score reading Ireland 15 Wales 17.
Jones stretched out the lead to five points with a penalty shortly after the re-start but Johnston replied almost immediately and the Irish out-half was on target once again, on the 51st minute to give Ireland a one point lead.
A raft of Welsh substitutions broke the game up but Ireland were on top and thankfully they started to open their game up. Stockdale broke out from deep and moments later was on hand to finish off in the corner to push Ireland six points clear with just over ten minutes remaining.
What a tense ten minutes it was.
Wales continued to profit when they went wide and they worked the ball deep into Irish territory. Of course, just as I was commenting that their forwards lacked that extra bit of punch to break the defensive line, a quick ball out wide saw Giles cross for his second with three minutes to go, leaving replacement out-half Jarrod Evans with a difficult kick to take the lead.
The kick was short and Ireland were able to close out the remaining minutes for an exciting win.
Ireland U20: Jacob Stockdale, Matthew Byrne, Shane Daly, Conor O’Brien, Hugo Keenan, Bill Johnston, Stephen Kerins, Andrew Porter, Adam McBurney, Conor Kenny, Cillian Gallagher, James Ryan, Greg Jones, David Aspil, Max Deegan. Replacements: Vincent O’Brien, Vakh Abdaladze, Ben Betts, Sean O’Connor, Kelvin Brown, Niall Saunders, Johnny McPhillips, Jimmy O’Brien.
In the other Pool A match New Zealand beat Georgia 55 – 0 leaving the standings as follows: