Ireland Under-20s make strong start to their Six Nations defence
Hosts score six tries in Cork but performance is less dominant than scoreline suggests
Ireland celebrate Jack Crowley’s opening try against Scotland. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Ireland Under-20s 38 Scotland Under-20s 26
Ireland have opened their defence of the Grand Slam they won last season in the Under-20 Six Nations Championship with a six-try salvo in Cork - a victory that was less dominant that the final scoreline suggested.
The home side benefited from several outstanding individual performances, fullback Oran McNulty, centre Hayden Hyde and outhalf Jack Crowley produced some brilliant moments.
Scrumhalf Lewis Finlay would have been a strong contender for man of the match, a livewire, whose clever reading of the game was very important.
Up from captain, Dave McCann led by example, ably supported by his fellow backrows Sean O’Brien and Mark Hernan, Thomas Ahern had several eye-catching moments, Brian Deeney work hard, a character trait that would have been representative of the frontrow en masse. Tom Clarkson, a try scorer, produced a monumental physical effort. The collective cohesion though requires plenty of work.
There were always going to be teething issues from an Irish perspective in the first match of a campaign and so it proved for much of the first half, the home side relying on some individual excellence and lacking a little cohesion and clarity that might have yielded more points.
There were some blemishes in the half, Ireland missed too many straight up tackles, too often passive and flat-footed; it could have been more debilitating against more ruthless opposition. The Scots won many of the collisions in the opening 40-minutes, delivering good go-forward ball and had the edge in the scrums too.
And yet the home side led 21-10 at the interval, scoring three tries in the process, Crowley’s brace bookending one from tighthead prop Thomas Clarkson. Dan Kelly’s great line was a catalyst for the first try but Crowley still had to display footwork and strength to touch down, two qualities that he exhibited again one minute from the interval, along with pure speed in his 80-metre run for a second try.
The Irish outhalf also converted all three tries. Scotland’s response was a try from their powerful hooker Ewan Ashman and a muscular finish from left wing Jack Blain. Nathan Chamberlain kicked one of two conversions. Ireland had the benefit of the strong wind in the second half but it required judicious use as the Scots had discovered in kicking several balls dead.
Ireland had the bonus point try squirreled away three minutes after the re-start, Sean O’Brien’s break was finished by Andrew Smith and then the excellent Ahern galloped down the touchline after good work by McCann and Tom Stewart. The home side though began to run out of energy, the Scots closing the gap to 31-19 with a fine individual try from Chamberlain, which he improved upon.
Joe McCarthy’s arrival from the bench was timely, his contribution significant time and again in the final quarter. If there was one particular weakness that undermined Ireland’s performance a little it was their lack of composure close to the Scottish line, too focused on one-out runners and oblivious to where the space was on the pitch.
Scotland finished the stronger and might have had a penalty try, based on their dominance at the scrum, but replacement Cameron Scott scored five minutes in additional time to earn the visitors a four try, bonus point, something they deserved.
Scoring sequence - 10 mins: Crowley try, Crowley conversion, 7-0; 15: Ashman try, Chamberlain conversion, 7-7; 22: Clarkson try, Crowley conversion, 14-7; 33: Blain try, 14-12; Crowley try, Crowley conversion, 21-12. Half-time: 21-12. 43: Smith try, Crowley conversion, 28-12; 47: Ahern try, 33-12; 61: Chamberlain try, Chamberlain conversion, 33-19; 74: McKee try, 38-19; 80 (+5): Scott Try, Chamberlain conversion, 38-26.
Ireland Under-20: O McNulty (Corinthians); E McIlroy (QUB), D Kelly (Loughborough University), H Hayde (Ballynahinch), A Smith (Clontarf); J Crowley (Cork Constitution), L Finlay (Malone); C Ward (Clontarf), T Stewart (Ballynahinch), T Clarkson (Dublin University); T Ahern (Shannon), B Deeney (Clontarf); S O’Brien (UCD), M Hernan (Lansdowne), D McCann (Banbridge, capt). Replacements: C Ryan (Cashel) for Ward half-time- 48 and 58 mins; L Faria (Dublin University) for Hyde 51 mins; J McKee (Old Belvedere) for Stewart 58 mins; J McCarthy (Dublin University) for Ahern 64 mins; A Soroka (Dublin University) for Hernan 73 mins; T Corkery (Lansdowne) for Crowley 73 mins; B Murphy (Clontarf) for Finlay 76 mins; R McMahon (Old Belvedere) for McCann 75 mins.
Scotland Under-20: O Smith; J Henry, M Currie, R McCallum, J Blain; N Chamberlain, R Frostwick; A Maxwell, E Ashman, M Wilson; K Watt, C Henderson; J Hill, C Boyle, R Darge (capt). Replacements: R Jackson for Ashman 35-40 mins; G Breese for Maxwell 45 mins; R McLean for Blain 46 mins; , K McGhie for Frostwick 62 mins; J Campbell for Watt 62 mins; T Lambert for Wilson 64 mins; C Scott for McCallum 70 mins. Yellow card: R McLean 73 mins.
Referee: G Gnecchi (Italy)