Ireland Under-20 35 England Under-20 27
Ireland defied the odds and at times themselves to produce a stunning performance in victory over England at Musgrave Park on the opening night of the Under-20 Six Nations Championship. There were times when the home side seemed destined for defeat, 11-points down, a man down, but they never stopped playing and fighting for one another.
Ireland coach Noel McNamara summed it up perfectly: “I thought the boys were magnificent tonight. The character and cohesion that our boys showed was first class. It was a 23-man effort.”
Ireland played some fantastic attacking rugby and even when knee deep in adversity continued to play.
It would be churlish to single out individuals but the backrow of John Hodnett, Scott Penny and Martin Moloney, outhalf Harry Byrne, two-try hooker Dylan Tierney-Martin; the list, a long one, goes on and on. Ireland's reward a four-try bonus-point win, England sent home with nothing.
The opening 40 minutes, helter-skelter, tries, turnovers, some wonderful individual cameos and basic errors made for an utterly riveting spectacle and the second half was only marginally less enthralling, complete with the perfect finale from an Irish perspective.
Yet despite those defensive aberrations – Ireland periodically got their pacing wrong in defence and were slow to wraparound – there was so much to admire in the way that Ireland took the game to a physically bigger England team that contained seven of the side that were beaten in last year's Under-20 World Junior Championship final.
The visitors raced into a 14-3 lead, a misplaced pass in the Ireland 22 allowing Cadan Murley to cross under the posts and then a second from a turnover that was superbly finished by Tom Willis after a sweeping English counterattack. Marcus Smith converted both tries.
Byrne, who had opened the scoring with an early penalty, spearheaded the Irish revival as his brilliant break was carried on by David Hawkshaw and after pummelling England around the fringes, Tierney-Martin forced his way over from close range under the posts.
The home side's second try mirrored the first in terms of the finish, this time flanker Penny grounding the ball against the base of the posts; the genesis for the try was a wonderful break from centre Liam Turner.
In between Ireland had conceded a third try, smartly taken by English fullback Josh Hodge, against converted by Smith, who exchanged penalties with Byrne to leave Ireland trailing 24-20 at half-time.
Ireland regained a lead they held briefly at the start of the game when kicking a penalty to the corner and mauling the visitors back over the line with Tierney-Martin getting a second try.
There was another exchange of penalties, Hardwick for England, Byrne for Ireland, a brilliant break by Irish fullback Jake Flannery, a yellow card for Michael Milne, robust goal-line defence from the home side, as the match never drew a breath. Flannery scampered down the touchline, put away by Jonathan Wren, but he was hauled down metres short of the English line by a brilliant covering tackle from Cameron Redpath. The Irish player's decision to offload didn't find a sympathetic home.
And then replacement scrumhalf Cormac Foley, on for the brilliant Craig Casey, showed great pace and footwork to get over from a five-metre scrum after the home side had chased, kicked and corralled England behind their own line. Byrne's conversion was greeted by a cacophony of noise, a fitting salutation on a wonderful evening for Irish rugby.
SCORING SEQUENCE – 4 mins: Byrne pen, 3-0; 11: Murley try, Smith con, 3-7; 15: Willis try, Smith con, 3-14; 30: Tierney-Martin try, Byrne con, 10-14; 31: Josh Hodge try, Smith con, 10-21; 34: Byrne pen, 13-21; 37: Penny try, Byrne con, 20-21; 40 (+1): Smith pen, 20-24. Half-time: 20-24. 45: Tierney-Martin try, 25-24; 48: Hardwick pen, 25-27; 54: Byrne pen, 28-27; 77: Foley try, Byrne con, 35-27.
IRELAND U-20: J Flannery (Shannon); C Phillips (Young Munster), L Turner (Dublin University), D Hawkshaw (Clontarf, capt), J Wren (Cork Constitution); H Byrne (Lansdowne), C Casey (Shannon); J Wycherley (Young Munster), D Tierney-Martin (Corinthians), Thomas Clarkson (Dublin University); C Ryan (UCD), Niall Murray (Buccaneers); M Moloney (Old Belvedere), S Penny (UCD), J Hodnett (UCC).
Replacements: R Russell (Dublin University) for Byrne (HIA, h/t-42 mins); S French (Cork Constitution) for Hawkshaw (48); M Milne (UCD) for Wycherley (55); Wycherley for Moloney (63); J McKee (Old Belvedere) for Tierney-Martin (70); Moloney for Wycherley (73); C Foley (St Mary's College) for Casey (74); Russell for Phillips, D McCann (Banbridge) for Moloney (both 75). Yellow card: M Milne (63 mins).
ENGLAND U20: J Hodge (Newcastle Falcons); O Sleightholme (Northampton Saints), F Dingwall (Northampton Saints), T Hardwick (Leicester Tigers), C Murley (Harlequins); M Smith (Harlequins), S Maunder (Exeter Chiefs); O Adkins (Gloucester), N Dolly (Sale Sharks), M Street (Exeter Chiefs); J Kpoku (Saracens), A Coles (Northampton Saints); T Hill (Worcester Warriors), A Hinkley (Gloucester), T Willis (Wasps).
Replacements: J Heyes (Leicester Tigers) for Street (h/t); C Redpath (Sale Sharks) for Smith (46 mins); O Lawrence (Worcester Warriors) for Dingwall (55); J Scott (Worcester Warriors) for Coles (60); O Fox (Yorkshire Carnegie) for Maunder, R Tuima (Exeter Chiefs) for Willis (both 68).
Referee: L Cayre (France)