Sam Prendergast kicks Ireland under-20s to last ditch victory over England in Verona

Richie Murphy’s side record their first win of the summer series in dramatic fashion

Ireland Under-20 37 England Under-20 36

Richie Murphy’s young squad produced a stunningly resilient display peppered with some wonderful passages of rugby to eke out victory in a hugely entertaining tussle in Verona on Tuesday night. Sam Prendergast’s superbly struck long-range penalty with two minutes remaining allowed Ireland to overturn a two-point deficit in a pulsating end game.

Ireland led 28-19 at half-time but England responded with three post-interval tries to three penalties from Prendergast’s boot. There were some brilliant individual performances in a superb team effort, particularly Lorcan McLoughlin, inspirational captain Reuben Crothers, James McCormick, Conor Ó Tighearnaigh, Diarmuid Mangan, Prendergast, Daniel Hawkshaw, and the tireless Patrick Campbell.

Tighthead prop Scott Wilson produced a towering performance in helping to lock down the scrum and the way he carried possession over the gain-line. Murphy’s men will have one final match in the summer series next Tuesday in Treviso and the identity of their opponents will be known after Wednesday night’s matches in Pool B.

Ireland’s previous performances in the tournament had been blighted by slow starts and that failing was once again in evidence as they conceded two tries in the opening five minutes to England fullback George Hendy and debutant right wing Alex Harmes of London Irish crossing the Irish line with outhalf Fin Smith converting.

This young Irish team is not short on character, though, and they responded with a brace of tries, the first following some brilliant footwork from number eight McLoughlin, who sent Fionn Gibbons over under the posts and then another when Wilson peeled round the front of a lineout and the excellent McCormick burrowed over.

Prendergast kicked both conversions and then on 21-minutes Ireland took the lead when Dylan O’Grady was prevented from scoring a try following a high tackle by England centre Rekeiti Ma’asi-White. Referee Federico Vedovelli brandished a yellow card and awarded a penalty try.

It was a superbly open and enterprising tussle with both sides playing some cracking rugby. Lewis Chessum scored a try against the run of play following a charge down, but Ireland responded with a fourth, fittingly from the outstanding McLoughlin. Prendergast’s kicking a superb conversion to leave Ireland 28-19 ahead at the interval.

Prendergast kicked a couple of penalties but in between a tiring Irish team succumbed to a raft of mistakes and England capitalised with tries from Mikey Summerfield, Iwan Stephens and a second from Hendy to make it 34-36.

The Lansdowne outhalf, though, had the final say with a brilliantly struck penalty from a metre inside the England half to seal a remarkable victory.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 3 mins: Hendy try, Smith con, 0-7; 5: Harmes try, Smith con, 0-14; 9: Gibbons try, Prendergast con, 7-14; 16: McCormick try, Prendergast con, 14-14; 22: Penalty try, 21-14; 31: Chessum try, 21-19; 35: McLoughlin try, Prendergast con, 28-19. Half-time: 28-19. 46: Prendergast pen 31-19; 53: Summerfield try, Smith con, 31-26; 59: Stephens try, 31-31; 63: Prendergast pen, 34-31; 69: Hendy try, 34-36; 78: Prendergast pen, 37-36.

IRELAND: P Campbell (Young Munster); A King (Clontarf); F Gibbons (UCD), D Hawkshaw (Clontarf), D O’Grady (UCD); S Prendergast (Lansdowne), E Coughlan (Shannon); G Hadden (Gorey RFC/Clontarf), J McCormick (Ballymena), S Wilson (QUB); C Ó Tighearnaigh (UCD), A McNamee (Malone); D Mangan (UCD), R Crothers (Ballynahinch, capt), L McLoughlin (QUB).

Replacements: A O’Mahony (UCC) for Coughlan (15 mins); G Coombes (UCC) for O’Grady (25); D McSweeney (Shannon) for Wilson (49); K Ryan (Shannon) for Hadden (54); C Irvine (QUB) for Ó Tighearnaigh (65); R O’Sullivan (Highfield) for Mangan (73); S McCarthy for Campbell (76).

ENGLAND: G Hendy; I Stephens, R Ma’asi-White, E Grayson, A Harmes; F Smith, C Bracken; T Onasanya, O Fletcher, J Warren; E Richards, L Chessum; E Staddon, E Ilione (capt), T Knight.

Replacements: C Cunningham-South for Knight, M Summerfield for Warren (both h-t); L Brooke for Staddon, J Stewart for Fletcher, T Litchfield for White (all 49 mins); A McArthur for Onasayna, T Carr-Smith for Bracken (both 54); C Rice for Richards (66); S Harris for Harmes (67); G Fisilau for Ilione (74).

Yellow card: R Ma’asi-White (22 mins)

Referee: Federico Vedovelli (Italy).

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer