Wales Under-20 27 Ireland Under-20 44
Ireland’s final quarter tour de force brooked no argument as they produced some scintillating rugby to rescue what had been at times a fitful and disjointed performance in Colwyn Bay. Aspects of the lack of cohesion are understandable for a young side playing in their first match in the Six Nations Championship. They will certainly be better for it.
Richie Murphy, Ireland’s head coach, will be pleased with the way his side found a way to smooth over the glitches and produce the calibre of rugby that properly represents the talent within the group. There’s plenty to work on ahead of France’s visit to Musgrave Park next Friday, not least the fact that Ireland conceded four tries to a livewire Welsh backline.
Ireland owed their victory to the dominance of the pack and some brilliant individual performances, not least from Loughmore teenager and number eight Brian Gleeson, who shrugged off dropping the opening kick-off to produce a towering performance in ball-carrying terms that earned him a deserved man-of-the-match.
He admitted: “It was a tough game, but we stuck to the plan. It was a real dogfight in the first half, but it shows the fight in the team. Ireland’s maul was very effective, their scrum dominant when given the scope by referee Luc Ramos, and the pack were excellent to a man. But even within those high standards, Diarmuid Mangan and Paddy McCarthy were outstanding.
Fintan Gunne worked hard for his team while Sam Prendergast’s prodigious talent became more obvious as the game wore on. Hugh Cooney’s contribution no less eye catching on both sides of the ball.
Ireland will be disappointed with aspects of their first-half performance, errors in concentration and application that gave Wales easy possession and territory. The visitors also conceded a raft of penalties and free kicks that again invited pressure.
It’s not as if Wales needed any assistance as they produced some brilliant attacking rugby behind the scrum with centre Harri Ackerman and fullback Cam Winnett especially prominent.
The home side dominated the opening seven minutes and had two great chances to score but were denied by Ireland’s scramble defence in which Gunne and Cooney made timely interventions. Then, having absorbed all that pressure Ireland escaped up the pitch and from a lineout Mangan and Gus McCarthy combined to take play to within touching distance of the Welsh line.
After a series or rucks, the excellent Conor O’Tighearnaigh powered over with Prendergast kicking the conversion. Unfortunately for the Murphy’s side Gunne dropped the restart and this time Wales didn’t let them off the hook. Centre Louie Hennessy claimed the try after some lovely running and handling from his backline buddies.
Daniel Edwards kicked the conversion and added a penalty before the home side grabbed a second try. And what a beauty it was, Ackerman, Hennessy and Winnett, showing dexterous handling that created space for Edwards to send Llien Morgan over in the corner.
Ireland continued to succumb to handling issues and ill-discipline as they chased a 15-7 deficit. There were spacing and alignment issues in the defensive line too, but the visitors did demonstrate character in the way they muscled their way back into the game.
Ireland’s dominance in the scrum and lineout provided them with the field position to score a second try. Wales managed to repel the visitors initially but Paddy McCarthy showed great strength and leg drive to squeeze over from a couple of metres. Prendergast’s conversion allowed Ireland to go in 15-14 behind.
Ireland might have been awarded a penalty try on 49 minutes after Edwards’s high shot on Cooney prevented a try. Ramos elected for a yellow card for the Welsh outhalf, but the visitors really should have scored from the ensuing tap penalty with a modicum of composure but instead ceded possession when held up over the line.
Wales, despite being a man light, scored the next try through hooker Sam Scarfe before, the young Irish side enjoyed a purple patch in the quality of their rugby and return generated; a brace of tries from James Nicholson and one each for Ruadhán Quinn and replacement Henry McErlean were laced with some exquisite interplay between backs and forwards.
There is plenty of work to be done in the coming week but it would be churlish not to acknowledge that when it was put up to this young group, the came with the answers.
SCORING SEQUENCE – 7 mins: O’Tighearnaigh try, Prendergast con, 0-7; 10: Hennessy try, Edwards con, 7-7; 16: Edwards pen, 10-7; 18: Morgan try, 15-7; 31: P McCarthy try, Prendergast con, 15-14. Half-time: 15-14. 52: Scarfe try, 20-14; 54: Nicholson try, Prendergast con, 20-21; 60: Prendergast pen, 20-24; 61: Quinn try, 20-29; 65: Nicholson try, 20-34; 73: Prendergast pen 20-37; 78: Morgan try, Edwards con, 27-37; 80 (+1): McErlean try, West con, 27-44.
WALES: C Winnett; L Morgan, L Hennessey, H Ackerman, H Houston; D Edwards, A Hughes; D Kelleher-Griffiths, S Scarfe, T Pritchard; L Edwards, J Green; R Woodman (capt), L Giannini, H Davies.
Replacements: Ó Evans for Green (28 mins, HIA); E Fackrell for Pritchard, I Young for Scarfe, F Chapman for Kelleher-Griffiths, H Williams for Hughes, T Florence for Houston (all 68); H James for Winnett (74).
Yellow card: D Edwards (49 mins).
IRELAND: J Nicholson (UCD); H Gavin (Galwegians), H Cooney (Clontarf), J Devine (Corinthians), I Anagu (La Rochelle); S Prendergast (Lansdowne), F Gunne (Terenure); G Hadden (Clontarf), G McCarthy (UCD, capt), P McCarthy (DUFC); C O’Tighearnaigh (UCD), D Mangan (UCD); J McNabney (Ballymena), R Quinn (Old Crescent), B Gleeson (Garryowen).
Replacements: H McErlean (Terenure) for Anagu (46 mins); G Morris (Lansdowne) for Hadden, E O’Connell (UL Bohemians) for McNabney (both 60); J Sheahan (UCC) for Quinn (68); F Barrett (Corinthians) for P McCarthy (70); Ó Cawley (Naas) for Gunne, H West (Buccaneers) for Prendergast, D Sheahan (UCC) for G McCarthy (all 73).
Referee: Luc Ramos (France)