Ireland U20s come up short as England power their way to title

Outhalf Harry Mallinder stars as host nation claim title for a third time in Manchester

Shane Daly scores Ireland’s second try during the World Rugby Under-20 Championship Final against England at the  AJ Bell Stadium in Salford, Manchester. Photograph:  Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Shane Daly scores Ireland’s second try during the World Rugby Under-20 Championship Final against England at the AJ Bell Stadium in Salford, Manchester. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho


England Under-20 45 Ireland Under-20 21

To England the spoils and no one would quibble with the merit of their success. The rugby they produced to win the Under-20 World Championship final was of a very high calibre and they outclassed a gutsy Ireland side that were comprehensively outplayed for large tranches of the match.

The home side won the tournament for the third time in their ninth final, a victory based on an amalgam of power, pace, vision, offloading and the ability to ruthlessly exploit opportunities created. It was a brilliant team performance.

Ireland captain James Ryan spoke afterwards that there was little consolation in defeat for Ireland but in a few days time he might take a more philosophical view.

There’s no doubt that Nigel Carolan’s side didn’t produce their best performance of the tournament but they weren’t allowed to do so. Despite this they never gave up, never stopped trying to execute their patterns, and in snatches, reminded the spectators and those watching at home, that this team can play a bit too.

Ryan, Max Deegan and Conor O’Brien were outstanding as they have been all tournament, so too Jacob Stockdale and Hugo Keenan. The fact that Keenan and Greg Jones were playing their fifth match in the tournament was a staggering physical achievement. Stephen Kerins was another to shine in difficult circumstances as he fought to clear ball from marauding English hands.

If they were the headliners for Ireland, there is no doubting the contribution from their team-mates; some days you’re just second best and Ireland were in several aspects of the game.

England dominated the breakdown, got the benefit of the interpretation at scrum time, and their use of the ball was highly impressive. They dominated the collisions and because Ireland’s line speed and failure to penetrate from a tackling perspective into the English backfield, it allowed the imperious Harry Mallinder to run the game.

Even when Ireland did mange to get some continuity and field position, ball carriers took a little too much contact and made it obvious they were going to do so. They improved in this respect as the game wore on.

England produced a stunning opening half of rugby, the tempo and variety in their game irresistible and that superiority was reflected, and to be fair, merited in terms of their 21-point tally for that period.

They manufactured quick ball for outhalf Mallinder, whose nuanced variety never allowed the Irish defence to settle into a rhythm; Garryowens, grubber kicks, cut-out passes out wide and popped inside balls to trailing wings or backrow players, meant Ireland were often chasing white-clad, sprites. Big ones mind you.

The tries were of the soft genre, albeit forced by an accumulation of pressure, good decision-making and execution. There were three in total during the opening 40 minutes from centre Joe Marchant, number eight Callum Chick and secondrow Hugh Taylor. Mallinder converted all three.

The breakdown was a massive issue for Ireland and England’s openside Will Evans had a huge game in this respect. Once English players got over the ball they were largely immoveable, Ireland often too high in their clear out. It pre-empted multiple turnovers or penalties.

The scrum, so dominant in the tournament, suffered under New Zealand referee Paul Williams’s interpretation. He had struggled with this facet of the game when presiding over Ireland’s win against Wales when indecisive and this time he made decisions but periodically incorrect.

England were allowed to stand up in the scrums and the reason two scrums wheeled was because the English tighthead Billy Walker’s initial movement was to fold in. It cost Ireland dearly when the game was a contest but shouldn’t detract for the merit of England’s victory; that was thoroughly deserved.

England were shrewder in the way they responded to the officials at scrum, breakdown and tackle and that paid dividends. Ireland were hard done on occasion with genuine grievances but that’s sport.

The Irish line speed in defence wasn’t as aggressive as some of their previous performances; they didn’t get to Mallinder or carriers behind the advantage line and the visitors also fell off some first up tackles.

For England’s first try, Ireland over-folded at a ruck and Marchant spotted an inner channel to cut inside the cover and race over for a try from 40 metres. Mallinder converted, as he would do again, when Chick plunged over from a five-metre scrum.

Irish outhalf Johnny McPhillips decision to chip soon after with a chasing line that was a few people short didn’t pay off, he overcooked it and two passes later, England secondrow Taylor was lolloping over for a try, that Mallinder again converted.

Conor O’Brien showed great feet but this was an isolated moment of excellence from Ireland in those opening 40, after which England led 21-0. The second half offered a carbon copy of the first. Conor O’Brien’s super break ending with an offload that didn’t work out, and when England went wide Matthew Byrne’s missed tackle gave England the space which they exploited ruthlessly with Mallinder taking the scoring pass.

A great run by the excellent Keenan should have ended up in a try but he failed to spot the unmarked Stockdale outside him. However from the lineout, hooker Adam McBurney was the tail-gunner in a maul that drove over the line. McPhillips added the conversion.

Ireland started to guess out wide with players shooting up out of the line but England were far too streetwise and the inside ball allowed Mallinder to cruise over for a second try, which he improved upon.

The one thing that this Ireland team has is character and it was shown in a stunning counterattack. England threatened but a bad bounce allowed Stockdale to pounce on the loose ball, beat four players on a glorious slaloming run and offload to the supporting Shane Daly who raced over in the corner. McPhillips added the conversion.

Ireland kept trying to play but following a brilliant break from Keenan they turned over possession. Less than 90 seconds later Kerins was in the sin bin and Mallinder was nudging over the penalty.

Marchant grabbed a second try, again improved on by Mallinder who finished with a 25-point tally and fittingly the man-of-the-match award. Ireland though remained defiant and rather appropriately it was Deegan who provided the finale and his team’s last hurrah with a try from a driving maul. Brett Connon converted.

Ireland demonstrated courage and character in adversity right throughout the tournament and although they came up short in the final it shouldn’t diminish what this young team achieved. They should be proud and rightly so.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 12 mins: Marchant try, Mallinder conversion, 7-0; 20: Chick try, Mallinder conversion, 14-0; 30: Taylor try, Mallinder conversion, 21-0. Half-time: 21-0. 41: Mallinder try, Mallinder conversion, 28-0; 46: McBurney try, McPhillips conversion, 28-7; 49: Mallinder try, Mallinder conversion, 35-7; 52: Daly try, McPhillips conversion, 35-14; 60: Mallinder penalty, 38-14; 68: Marchant try, Mallinder conversion, 45-14; 78: Deegan try, Connon conversion, 45-21.

ENGLAND UNDER-20: M Malins (Saracens); S Aspland-Robinson (Harlequins), J Marchant (Harlequins), J Williams (London Irish), M Gallagher (Saracens); H Mallinder (Northampton Saints, capt), M Green (Yorkshire Carnegie); L Boyce (Yorkshire Carnegie), J Singleton (Worcester Warriors), B Walker (Saracens); S South (Harlequins), H Taylor (Worcester Warriors); G Nott (Sale Sharks), W Evans (Leicester Tigers), C Chick (Newcastle Falcons).

Replacements: H Randall (Gloucester) for Green (32 mins); W Stuart (Wasps) for Walker (53 mins); A Kitchener (Worcester Warriors) for South (61 mins); J Willis (Wasps) for Nott (61 mins); T West (Wasps) for Boyce (64 mins); Knott for Chick (65-68 mins); C Piper (Harlequins) for Singelton (68 mins); O Thorley (Gloucester) for Gallagher (71 mins); M Wright (Yorkshire Carnegie) for Aspland-Robinson (71 mins).

IRELAND UNDER-20: J Stockdale (Belfast Harlequins); M Byrne (Terenure College), S Daly (Cork Constitution), C O’Brien (Clontarf), H Keenan (Blackrock College); J McPhillips (QUB), S Kerins (Sligo); A Porter (UCD), A McBurney (Ballymena), B Betts (Young Munster); S O’Connor (Cashel), J Ryan (Lansdowne, capt); G Jones (UCD), D Aspil (St Mary’s College), M Deegan (Lansdowne).

Replacements: J O’Brien (UCD) for C O’Brien (55 mins); B Connon (Newcastle Falcons) for McPhillips (57 mins); V O’Brien (Cork Constitution) for McBurney (60 mins); K Brown (Shannon) for Aspil (61 mins); N Saunders (Harlequins) for Kerins (71 mins); E Mintern (Cork Constitution) for O’Connor (71 mins); A Coyle (Naas) for Betts (74 mins); J Bollard (Dublin University) for Porter (79 mins). Yellow card: S Kerins (59 mins).

Referee: P Williams (New Zealand).

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