Ireland U20s coach relishes winning start but sees room for improvement

Richie Murphy’s team hit Scotland for six as they begin defence of Six Nations title

Ireland’s Alex Soroka celebrates after forcing a penalty against Scotland at Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff, Wales. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Ireland’s Alex Soroka celebrates after forcing a penalty against Scotland at Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff, Wales. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

 

Ireland Under-20 38 Scotland Under-20 7

Glitches in performance terms will be assuaged somewhat by the hard currency of a bonus point victory as Ireland took a positive first step in defence of their Under-20 Six Nations Championship title at the Arms Park.

A red card for Scotland openside flanker Harri Morris less than 60 seconds after the interval – Ireland led 14-7 at the time – utterly changed the complexion of the contest as the victors added 24 unanswered points.

Six tries, a host of fine individual performances, sound defence and set piece excellence underpinned the Irish victory but it won’t distract from the improvements required - every future opponent will have noted how a physically slighter Ireland struggled to defend the Scottish lineout maul - if head coach Richie Murphy and his charges are to maintain that winning theme next Friday night.

Basic handling, game orientation and decision making will have to improve and it should because there was enough evidence to suggest that the team has additional gears in performance terms. There is no substitute for the tempering process that the match environment provides, something that would have been relatively scarce for the majority of these players during the pandemic.

Murphy said: “Firstly I am very happy with the win, we probably left a few scores out there, we were a little bit rusty in some of the stuff that we did but overall we were pleased with the performance and the effort the players put in, in what is a very strange time, because they just have not played enough rugby.

“To go from where they have been to international rugby is very difficult but I thought the lads (made that transition) really well. The set-piece stuff was really good; I think we were strong in and around our breakdown.

“The way we passed the ball, I thought was good, we probably did not play to the space enough and the pressure that Scotland put on us meant we were a little bit reluctant once or twice to throw a couple of passes. So, that is something we will be working on, to try and get the ball to space a little bit earlier. We did that in the second half a little bit better which is pleasing.

“This is a very new experience for everyone and I felt we handled it quite well. The work ethic was there. The physical intent was there. We probably could have been a little smarter at times and could have taken the easier option which would have created a little more space for us. We are all learning.”

It was a fair and accurate summation of events. There were some outstanding performances led by captain and man of the match, Alex Kendellen, with Oisín McCormack, Alex Soroka, Harry Sheridan, the twin pillars Temi Lasisi and Sam Illo, Cathal Forde in the first half and Shane Jennings in the second and fullback Jamie Osborne producing eye catching contributions. Jack Boyle and Donnacha Byrne made significant impacts from the bench.

Murphy confirmed that outhalf James Humphreys would have a scan on a cheekbone after shipping a heavy blow in a tackle and would also follow the graduated return to play protocols. Soroka’s early try was followed by a rather fortuitous score just before half-time when a fortunate ricochet; Forde’s pass bounced off Osborne’s head and fell kindly for McCormack who was prematurely tackled.

The upshot was a penalty try, a yellow card for Scottish wing Michael Gray, with Sean Lineen’s side further depleted when Morris saw red for a dangerous tackle on Osborne. Illo, Kendellen, Jennings and Osborne all crossed for second half tries with replacement outhalf Tim Corkery kicking two conversions.

There will be tougher days ahead starting next Friday night when tournament hosts Wales, 25-8 winners over Italy, provide the opposition as Ireland chase a 10th successive win at this age-grade over three seasons.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 3 mins: Soroka try, Humphreys con, 7-0; 20: Gourlay try, Scott con, 7-7; 35: Penalty try, 14-7. Half-time: 14-7. 41: Illo try, 19-7; 55: Kendellen try, 24-7; 61: Jennings try, Corkery con, 31-7; 78: Osborne try, Corkery con, 38-7.

IRELAND: J Osborne (Leinster); B Moxham (Ulster), S Jennings (Connacht), C Forde (Connacht), J O’Connor (Leinster); J Humphreys (Ulster), C McKee (Ulster); T Lasisi (Leinster), R Loughnane (Leinster), S Illo (Leinster); M Morrissey (Leinster), H Sheridan (Ulster); A Soroka (Leinster), O McCormack (Connacht), A Kendellen (Munster, capt).

Replacements: T Corkery (Leinster) for Humphreys (HIA, 28 mins); R Crothers (Ulster) for Soroka (46 mins); C Cosgrave (Leinster) for O’Connor (54 mins); J Boyle (Leinster) for Lasisi , M Donnelly (Munster) for Illo, D Byrne (Connacht) for McCormack (all 57 mins); E de Buitlear (Connacht) for Loughnane (60 mins); W Reilly (Leinster) for McKee (63 mins).

SCOTLAND: O Melville; F Callaghan, S King, E Gourlay, M Gray; C Scott, M Redpath; C Lamberton, P Harrison, O Frostick; M Williamson, A Samuel (capt); A Smeaton, Harri Morris, Ben Muncaster.

Replacements: G Breese for Frostick (half-time); R Tait for Callaghan (45 mins); E McVicker for Redpath (46 mins); J Drummond for Harrison, M Jones for Lamberton (both 49 mins); C Townsend for Scott (58 mins); O Leatherbarrow for Smeaton (61 mins); E Ferrie for Samuel (72 mins); Frostick for Breese (HI, 78 mins).

Yellow card: M Gray (35 mins). Red card: H Morris (40 mins).

Referee: G Gnecchi (Italy).

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