England outmuscle Ireland and have title within their grasp

Poor discipline and head injuries take their toll for the Irish U-20s

England’s Ewan Richards scores a try despite the efforts of Nathan Doak and Cathal Forde. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Ireland Under 20 15 England Under 20 24

England were thoroughly deserving winners of a tussle between the unbeaten teams in this season’s Under-20 Six Nations, physically dominant for the most part and able to translate that advantage into tries.

Ireland were brave and resilient but lacked clarity in attack on a modest diet of possession and it was never going to suffice - they lost four players to head injuries - despite the best efforts of players like Alex Kendellen, Alexis Soroka, Sam Illo, Oisin McCormack, Cathal Forde and Jamie Osborne to single out some standout players in a commendable team effort.

There were three incidents in the first five minutes of the match all of which might have merited a yellow card for an English player; tackling a player in the air and wrapping to boot, flipping a player above horizontal hip height and a high tackle. Referee Adam Jones and his officiating team decided none warranted even a second look. It’s not the outcome but the action that merits censure.


Ireland made a bright start but scrumhalf Nathan Doak couldn’t avail of a 47-metre penalty opportunity and then a bout of indiscipline enabled England to engineer a close range lineout maul from which number eight Nahum Merigan muscled over. It was an ominous sign especially when factored alongside England’s physical superiority in the collisions and at the breakdown.

The highpoint of the first half an hour was a superb cut-out pass from Jamie Osborne that sent flanker Oisin McCormack clear but the move petered out in the English 22 when Alex Kendellen, after breaking one tackle was isolated in a second, the support was slow to arrive.

McCormack made an even more crucial intervention soon after in shearing through an English maul metres from the Irish line to force a turnover. Ireland’s discipline was an ongoing issue, especially the backs’ haste to try and shut down the space in defence.

Chris Cosgrave was sent to the sin bin on 36 minutes; that particular decision looked incorrect but the repeated infringements had worn thin the patience of the officials. Ireland had displayed tremendous guts and character in the opening 40 minutes in staying in the fight but they needed to be much cuter and less one dimensional when they managed to secure hard won possession.

Narrow in attack, they telegraphed intended receivers and that allowed England to use their superior weight and power to dominate physically. Kendellen, McCormack, Harry Sheridan and Illo in particular were unstinting in putting every sinew into carrying and tackling.

Ireland needed to be more subtle and being on the wrong side of a 12-4 penalty count - two of Ireland’s penalties coming in  the first two minutes  - requires little elaboration as a shortcoming. Ireland lost the outstanding McCormack to a head injury but Kendellen took up the mantle with a brilliant penalty turnover but a missed touch provided a preamble to England’s second try from Ewan Richards.

It was a real blow as Doak had just kicked a penalty to narrow the deficit to 7-3 with Cosgrave’s return imminent. As Ireland tried to conjure a riposte a move broke down, the ball going to ground and English flanker Richards was quickest to react, poking the ball forward and chasing it down for a try to push his side 17-3 ahead.

Referee Jones saw mitigation in England number eight Merigan’s high shot on Kendellen, adjudging that the Irish captain was dipping and therefore it merited a yellow and not a red card.

Ireland’s gutsy resilience was evident in a try from Soroka, converted by Doak to reduce the deficit to 17-10 but England reasserted their dominance with the outstanding hooker Sam Riley crossing for the bonus point try. It is a measure of this young Irish side that they responded with a second try, another close range finish this time from replacement Eoin de Buitlear.

Scoring sequence

16 mins: Merigan try, Smith conversion, 0-7. Half-time: 0-7. 43: Doak penalty, 3-7; 46: Richards try, 3-12; 54: Richards try, 3-17; 58: Soroka try, Doak conversion, 10-17; 64: Riley try, Smith conversion, 10-24; 74: de Buitlear try, 15-24.

Ireland: J Osborne (Leinster); B Moxham (Ulster), S Jennings (Connacht), C Forde (Connacht), C Cosgrave (Leinster); T Corkery (Leinster), N Doak (Ulster); T Lasisi (Leinster), R Loughnane (Leinster), S Illo (Leinster); A Soroka (Leinster), H Sheridan (Ulster); D Byrne (Connacht), O McCormack (Connacht), A Kendellen (Munster, capt). Replacements: J Postlethwaite (Ulster) for Jennings (HIA) 29 mins-halftime; J Boyle (Leinster) for Lasisi half-time; R Crothers (Ulster) for McCormack (HIA) 41 mins; M Donnelly (Munster) for Illo 46 mins; B Carson (Ulster) for Corkery 50 mins; Postlethwaite for Cosgrave 57 mins; D Okeke (Munster) for Byrne 57 mins; Byrne for Kendellen (HIA) 58 mins; C McKee (Ulster) for Doak 67 mins; J Kelleher (Munster) for Byrne 69 mins; Illo for Donnelly 69 mins; E de Buitlear (Connacht) for Boyle 73 mins (HIA). Yellow card: C Cosgrave (Ireland) 36 mins; D Okeke (Ireland) 82 mins.

England: C Atkinson (Wasps); T Litchfield (Northampton Saints), J Bates (Bristol Bears), D Lancaster (Leeds Tykes), A Relton (Exeter Chiefs); F Smith (Worcester Warriors), J van Poortvliet (Leicester Tigers, capt); P Brantingham (Newcastle Falcons), S Riley (Harlequins), H Kindell-Beaton (Saracens); A Clark (Gloucester), A Groves (Bristol Bears); E Richards (Bath), J Clement (Gloucester), N Merigan (Bath). Replacements: T Roebuck (Sale Sharks) for Litchfield 46 mins; T Haffar (London Irish) for Brantingham 61 mins; L Green (London Irish) for Kindell-Beaton 66 mins; O Stonham (Saracens) for Clark 68 mins; P Cokanasiga (London Irish) 68 mins; O Bailey (Bath) for Atkinson 70 mins; J Gray (Gloucester) for Richards 78 mins. Yellow card: N Merigan (England) 58 mins.

Referee: Adam Jones (Wales)

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer