Ireland 21 Italy 22
Ireland lost, won and then dramatically lost with the final kick of the match against Italy in their opening game of the Under-20 Rugby World Cup in Georgia.
The defeat leaves Ireland with a hugely difficult assignment to qualify for the knockout stages with Scotland and New Zealand to come in the next two games.
A poor first half left Ireland trailing by two tries and 15-3 before a rejuvenated team came out after the break to overhaul the Italians and take a 21-15 lead going into the final 10 minutes of the game.
But it was in the closing stages that Italy came up with the try of the match with fullback Massimo Cioffi finishing a wonderful break from outside centre Marco Zanon, and converted his own score, to give Italy a 21-22 lead on 77 minutes.
At that point it seemed Italy had the game in their grasp and needed only to see out the clock. But in their game of holding and running down time, they played too negatively and in the 80th minute were adjudged to have sealed off the ball on the ground.
Ireland were awarded a penalty for the infringement and centre Ciaran Frawley, who had taken over the longer kicks from outhalf Conor Dean, stepped up. But Frawley's effort drifted wide and the flags remained down, the game ending with Peter Malone's Irish side one point short.
Ireland can blame themselves for a ragged opening half that lacked composure and control with Italy earning their first try on 11 minutes when they opted for a lineout from a penalty.
Having scored twice in the Six Nations from lineouts so they continued, Danilo Fischetti touching down for 0-5. Jacopo Bianchi added the second try on 17 minutes, pouncing on a deft chip over the Irish defence, before a Dean penalty finally got Ireland on the board on 28 minutes. But Antonio Rizzi dropped a goal for 3-15 almost immediately and Ireland went into the break chasing the game.
Lively left wing Calvin Nash triggered the Irish comeback, Dean's quick hands putting him over on 42 minutes for 8-15. A Gavin Mullin skip pass picked him out for his second try four minutes later, Dean converting to draw the sides level at 15-15.
Dean then took Ireland into the lead just past the hour for the first time in the match, Frawley adding a longer one on 70 minutes for Ireland’s 21-15 advantage.
From there the drama unfolded with Cioffi’s fine try hauling Italy back into it and finally Frawley’s last despairing kick drifting wide of the posts as the Italians celebrated their good fortune.
Ireland face Scotland on Sunday and New Zealand next Thursday with the top teams in each of the three pools and the best second place advancing.
Scoring sequence: 11 mins D Fischetto try 0-5; 17 mins J Bianchi try, A Rizzi con 0-12; 28 mins C Dean pen 3-12; 29 mins A Rizzi drop goal 3-15. Halftime: 42 mins Nash try 8-15; 47 mins Nash try, Dean con 15-15; 63 mins Dean pen 18-15; 70 mins C Frawley pen 21-15; 77 mins M Cioffi try, con 21-22.
IRELAND U-20: J Kelly (Dublin University/Leinster); C Hogan (Dublin University/Munster), G Mullin (UCD/Leinster), C Frawley (UCD/Leinster), C Nash (Young Munster/Munster); C Dean (St. Mary's College/Leinster), J Stewart (Queen's University/Ulster); J Conway (UL Bohemians/Munster), D Barron (Garryowen/Munster), C Connolly (Dublin University/Leinster), F Wycherley (Young Munster/Munster), O Dowling (Lansdowne/Leinster), M Rea (Queen's University/Ulster), P Boyle (Lansdowne/Leinster) (capt), G Coombes (Young Munster/Munster). Replacements: R Kelleher for Barron and A Tynan for Hogan 23 mins; Masterson for Rea 64 mins; Regan for Dowling 67 mins; Cooper for Connolly 71 mins; McGrath for Conway 71 mins
ITALY U-20: M Cioffi (SS Lazio Rugby 1927); A de Masi (Benetton Treviso), M Zanon (Mogliano Rugby), D Schiabel (Lafert San Donà), G d'Onofrio (Rugby Benevento); A Rizzi (Mogliano Rugby), C Vincenzo, E Trussardi (Clermont Auvergne); D Fischetti (Unione Rugby Capitolina), M Ceciliani (Delebio Rugby), M Riccioni (Patarò Calvisano) (capt), N Cannone (Florentia Rugby), E Iachizzi (Perpignan), J Bianchi (Vasari Arezzo), L Masselli (Sitav Rugby Lyons), G Licata (Miraglia Rugby). Replacements: Carlivitta for Riccioni 40 min; Rimpelli for Fischetti 50 mins; Brtonzini for De Masi 50 mins; Lamaro for Cannone 56 mins; Rollero for Ceciliani 65 mins; Manni for Lachizzi 71 mins. Panunzi for Trussardi 74 mins