Ireland fight to the last as England claim Under-20 Grand Slam
Fullback Jordan Larmour tops a list of impressive Irish performances at Donnybrook
England’s Max Malins and Joe Cokanasiga get to grips with Gavin Mullin. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho
Ireland Under-20 10 England Under-20 14
Ignore the final score for a moment because it’s a distorted reflection of what transpired at Donnybrook. England won a Grand Slam, champions for the first time since 2011, an excellent team, but Ireland rattled them to the core, playing some outstanding rugby in the process.
The phrase ‘small margins’ is overused but encapsulates what separated Ireland from the victory that their performance probably merited over the 80 minutes. The home side was denied by millimetres, occasionally measured in territory and none more so than the final throes of the game when the Ireland battered their way to the England line but could not ground the ball.
Heartbreak sure, but a magnificent hurrah for a barnstorming, courage-laden, entertaining, skillful display from this young Irish team; they should be proud because their supporters were, a wall of noise reverberating around a packed Donnybrook.
England earned their celebrations at the final whistle with that superbly defiant goal-line stand. On other days they might have lost but just about mustered enough resolution to prevail.
The frisson of excitement was palpable when Ireland fullback Jordan Larmour touched the ball, the dip of a shoulder and sudden acceleration; tacklers vapourised in his slipstream; or when initially corralled, legs piston-like powering through opponents.
He was exceptional in an outstanding team display. On any other night, Tommy O’Brien, Gavin Mullin, Paul Boyle and Caelan Doris, debutant John Foley, Fineen Wycherley or replacement Gavin Coombes would commandeer headlines but Larmour’s performance in front of Ireland senior coach Joe Schmidt was colossal.
In singling out those players it should in no way denigrate the contribution of the rest of the Irish players on the night; to a man they were excellent.
A team doesn’t always receive the reward that their endeavour merits, something with which Ireland might empathise after the opening 40 minutes. They conceded tries at either end of the half, flummoxed by a lineout variation for the first and undone by a bit of bully beef and a sharp line for the second.
Secondrow Jack Nay and hooker Henry Walker were the men who breached the Irish defence, while Max Malins kicked two super conversions to nudge the visitors into a 14-3 lead. Ireland’s response on the scoreboard came through the boot of outhalf Bill Johnston, striking a beautifully judged medium range penalty.
There was so much more though to the Irish performance in that period. They took the game to England, might have scored a couple of tries and demonstrated courage and, at times, excellent attacking gambits. In matches of this ilk though, opportunities must be snapped up; the home side didn’t, defaulting on two glorious chances.
Handling errors were to prove a bugbear, undermining some brilliant passages of attacking rugby in the preamble to a ball spilling from a player’s grasp, albeit under huge physical pressure in ferocious collisions.
Ireland weathered some early English pressure after the restart and then, playing into the strong wind, set about taking the game to their opponents, in close, on the fringes, through the midfield and out wide; Larmour and O’Brien were particularly effective.
It was the Irish fullback’s latest break on 64 minutes, from what will be an impressive highlights reel, that took Ireland into the English 22 and from there, the pack bludgeoned their way to the visitors’ line before Coombes plunged over beneath the posts. Johnston converted.
England threatened briefly from turnover ball but Ireland finished as they had played for much of the match with courage and skill, ultimately denied by those millimetres.
SCORING SEQUENCE – 16 mins: Nay try, Malins conversion, 0-7; 39: Johnston penalty, 3-7; 40(+2): Walker try, Malins conversion, 3-14. Halftime: 3-14. 64: Coombes try, Johnston conversion, 10-14.
IRELAND U-20: J Larmour (St Mary’s College); T O’Brien (UCD), G Mullin (UCD), C Frawley (UCD), C Nash (Young Munster); B Johnston (Garryowen), J Stewart (QUB); J Conway (UL Bohemian), T McElroy (Lansdowne), C Connolly (Dublin University); F Wycherley (Young Munster), O Dowling (Lansdowne); J Foley (Shannon), P Boyle (Lansdowne), C Doris (St Mary’s College).
Replacements: G Coombes (Young Munster) for Dowling 32 mins; R Kelleher (UCD) for McElroy 52 mins; M Burke (Corinthians) for Connolly 52 mins; J Stafford (Shannon) for Stewart 60 mins; J Regan (UCD) for Foley 62 mins; C Fitzgerald (Shannon) for Johnston 70 mins; C Hogan (Dublin University) for Nash 70 mins; G McGrath (Lansdowne) for Conway 77 mins.
ENGLAND U-20: T Parton (London Irish); J Cokanasiga (London Irish), D Morris (Saracens), W Butler (Worcester Warriors), S Aspland-Robinson (Harlequins); M Malins (Saracens), H Randall (Gloucester); O Dawe (Bristol), H Walker (Gloucester), C Knight (Gloucester); J Nay (Saracens), N Isiekwe (Saracens); T Curry (Sale Sharks), B Curry (Sale Sharks), Z Mercer (Bath, capt).
Replacements: R Adams-Hale (Saracens) for Dawe 49 mins; M Wright (Yorkshire Carnegie) for Butler 49 mins; J Morris (Worcester Warriors) for Knight 49 mins; J Bayliss (Bath) for T Curry 53 mins; J Clegg (Worcester Warriors) for Nay 58 mins; J Blamire (Newcastle Falcons) for B Curry 73 mins; T Brophy Clews (London Irish) for Malins 77 mins.
Referee: P Brousset (France).