Ireland under-20s made to sweat for tight victory

Noel McNamara’s side were pushed all the way by Italian counterparts in Donnybrook

Ireland’s James McCarthy scores his side’s fourth try of the game during the under-20 Six Nations clash with Italy. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Ireland’s James McCarthy scores his side’s fourth try of the game during the under-20 Six Nations clash with Italy. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Ireland Under-20 38 Italy Under-20 34

To Ireland the spoils but to Italy the plaudits. The visitors produced a marvellous display of attacking rugby while short-handed, scoring five tries and almost pinching a victory that the calibre of their rugby arguably merited. Reduced to 14-men after just nine minutes when Italian flanker Jacopo Bianchi received a straight red card for a tip tackle, they clawed their way back from 38-15 to score the last 19-points of the match. It is a matter of conjecture what might have happened if they had retained their full complement of players.

In the end the home side were relieved to simply hang on. Ireland scored six tries and in Sean Masterson, Michael Silvester, secondrow Jack Dunne, scrumhalf Hugh O’Sullivan, wing James McCarthy and flanker Matthew Agnew they had some fine individual performers but the collective cohesion was patchy.

Ireland struggled to contain the Italian maul and the power game of the visiting pack in the direct collisions on the fringes of rucks and were also guilty of periodic bouts of indiscipline and poor concentration. Defence was also an issue once again; too many missed tackles and also getting very narrow.  

The integrity of the contest changed irrevocably after nine minutes when Bianchi lifted and flipped Jack Dunne over in a tackle taking him through about 400 degrees and while the Irish player’s head didn’t make contact with the ground it was an extremely dangerous action and referee Dan Jones had no option after reviewing it on the big screen but to issue a red card.

At that point the game was nicely poised at 5-5, the Italians had taken the lead in the first minute through an intercept try from left wing Tommaso Coppo, only for Ireland to respond with a beautifully constructed try – the suspicion of a forward pass notwithstanding – that was finished sharply by James McCarthy.

Two tries in the space of three minutes allowed the home side to escape on the scoreboard, scrumhalf Hugh O’Sullivan and secondrow Cormac Daly the beneficiaries of excellent work from their teammates. Harry Byrne kicked a couple of conversions.

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It was something of a mixed opening 40-minutes from the home side, Ireland’s handling in precision terms didn’t match their ambition and the Italians regularly punched holes in the Irish defence, invariably under the clever prompting of their very fine outhalf, Antonio Rizzi.

When Ireland did respect the ball, they produced some excellent attacking rugby. McCarthy’s second try contained a huge slice of luck though as his chip through looked to be overcooked but it bounced back on landing and he jumped high to reclaim and dot down over the line; it was an athletic finish which Byrne improved upon with the conversion.

There were glimpses of real quality, Michael Silvester and McCarthy both demonstrating their pace and footwork to beat multiple tacklers, Tadhg O’Sullivan carried well, Sean Masterson was excellent over the ball and hooker Eoghan Clarke – a late call-up – was multi-faceted in his contribution.

Peter Sullivan crossed for Ireland’s fifth try, off an orthodox blindside eight, nine, wing combination from a scrum five metres from the Italian line. Byrne missed the conversion. Italy – who got the rough edge of the officiating on several occasions during the half – got the try their enterprise and to be fair quality deserved in first half injury time, secondrow Niccolo Cannone forcing his way over from a couple of metres.

The teams swapped tries, Aungier for Ireland and a muscular finish from Italian centre Damiano Mazza, before the Italians scored the best try of the game, fittingly Rizzi applied the coupe de grace but Mazza’s offload out the back door in the build-up was stunning. The Italian outhalf kicked the conversion and suddenly the visitors were only 38-27 behind.

Ireland captain Tommy O’Brien looked to have scored a try on 68 minutes but it was ruled out as Silvester’s left boot was adjudged to have caressed the touchline. The home side’s play became more ragged as the game wore on exacerbated by a ridiculously high penalty count.

As the match entered its final stanza the home side were clinging on for dear life and Italy retained their spirit of adventure and thoroughly deserved to have the final word when replacement Edoardo Iachizzi muscled his way over and Rizzi nonchalantly landed the conversion with a drop goal.

Scoring sequence – 1 min: Coppo try, 0-5; 4: McCarthy try, 5-5; 13: H O’Sullivan try, Byrne conversion, 12-5; 16: Daly try, Byrne conversion, 19-5; 21: Rizzi penalty, 19-8; 24: McCarthy try, Byrne conversion, 26-8; Sullivan try, 31-8; 40 (+4): Cannone try, Rizzi conversion, 31-15. Half-time: 31-15. 42: Aungier try, Byrne conversion, 38-15; 52: Mazza try, 38-20; 62: Rizzi try, Rizzi conversion, 38-27; 79: Iachizzi try, Rizzi conversion, 38-34.      

Ireland Under-20: M Silvester (Dublin University); P Sullivan (Lansdowne), T O’Brien (UCD, capt), A Curtis (QUB), J McCarthy (UL Bohemian); H Byrne (UCD), H O’Sullivan (Clontarf); J Duggan (Naas), E Clarke (Wanderers), J Aungier (St Mary’s College); C Daly (Clontarf), Jack Dunne (Dublin University); S Masterson (Corinthians), M Agnew (Ballymena), J O’Sullivan (UCC).

Replacements: R Foley (UCD) for J O’Sullivan half-time; D Barron (Garryowen) for Clarke 53 mins; T O’Toole (Banbridge) for Aungier 53 mins; C Dean (St Mary’s College) for Byrne 57 mins; J French (UCC) for Duggan 72 mins; P Patterson (UCD) for Silvester 73 mins; C Ryan (UCD) for Dunne 75 mins; A Kernohan (Ballymena) for McCarthy 77 mins.

Italy Under-20: A Rossi; S Cornelli, M Biondelli, D Mazza, T Coppo; A Rizzi, N Casilio; D Fischetti, M Luccardi, M Mancini Parri; N Cannone, M Canali;  J Bianchi, M Lamaro (capt), L Manni.

Replacements: G Romano for Mancini Parri 49 mins; N Taddia for Luccardi 49 mins; L Mariottini for Fischetti 52 mins; E Iachizzi for Cannone 52 mins; A Fusco for Cornelli 58 mins; F Di Marco for Rossi 71 mins; E Ghigo for Manni 73 mins.

Referee: D Jones (Wales).

Red card: J Bianchi (Italy) 9 mins. 

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