Scrappy Ireland do enough to hold off Italian challenge in Cardiff

Skipper Alex Kendellen’s two second-half tries cap brilliant performance

Ireland’s Alex Kendellen scores a try during the  Under-20 Six Nations Championship match at   Cardiff Arms Park. Photograph: Ryan Hiscott/Inpho

Ireland’s Alex Kendellen scores a try during the Under-20 Six Nations Championship match at Cardiff Arms Park. Photograph: Ryan Hiscott/Inpho

 

Ireland Under-20 30 Italy Under-20 23

The aesthetics of this bonus-point victory won’t have an appeal outside the Ireland group but it won’t diminish the satisfaction in eking out a third win in this season’s Under-20 Six Nations Championship.

There will be plenty of performance flaws to pore over ahead of their final match against France but the fact that a much changed team managed to overcome a 10-point interval deficit and keep their opponents scoreless in the second half in Cardiff is something to savour.

Ireland relied heavily once again on their pack, led by the outstanding Alex Kendellen, whose sheer force of personality and physical application dragged his team-mates with him. Sam Illo, Harry Sheridan and Alexis Soroka were also key contributors while Mark Morrissey’s lineout work was vital in the final outcome.

Cathal Forde’s introduction made a pronounced difference but Ireland’s back play was largely disjointed and unfocused, lacking nuance and basic tenets. Jude Postlethwaite’s defence, his yellow card notwithstanding, was impressive.

Indiscipline was a real bugbear for Ireland in the first 20 minutes as they lost centre Postlethwaite to a yellow card for a high tackle. While he was in the bin, Ireland conceded two tries to Italian hooker Tomasso di Bartolomeo and outhalf Leonardo Marin.

Wing Simone Gesi showed good strength and speed to finish Italy’s first try but again its origins could be found in a mishmash of Irish mistakes.

Ireland had genuine reasons to feel aggrieved with a number of penalty decisions, particularly one which denied Kendellen a legitimate turnover in the build-up to the Italy’s second try but they were also guilty of some ropey execution, James Humphreys twice having chip kicks charged down in the preamble to tries.

Mistakes multiplied as the half wore on; crooked lineout throws, shoddy passing, getting isolated in carrying the ball, being slow to realign and basic missed tackles undermined Irish ambition and in some respects were in marked contrast to the flair and sense of adventure that the Italians demonstrated.

Italy’s dominance in the scrum provided a six-point haul for Marin, the second a brilliant long-range effort from the halfway line; albeit that it should have been taken four metres further back from where it was, but accuracy was not a strong point for the match officials.

Ireland’s two tries came from muscular work by the pack, hooker Eoin de Buitléar at the back of a lineout maul and loosehead prop George Saunderson, powered through a couple of tackles to dot down, flecks of bright colour on a canvas of errors.

Ireland head coach Richie Murphy’s decision to make several changes had a desired effect in terms of momentum and outcome; two tries for the outstanding Kendellen, one of which Doak converted with the scrumhalf tagging on a penalty at a time when Italy were down to 14 players, allowed Ireland to surge into a 27-23 lead after 57 minutes.

The scrappy nature of the contest continued to the final whistle, the only score in the last quarter coming from the boot of Doak with a penalty, one minute from time. The victory won’t camouflage the shortcomings come the review but for now will act as a balm for bruised bodies.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 4 mins: De Buitléar try, 5-0; 6: Gesi try, 5-5; 13: Di Bartolomeo try, 5-10; 15: Saunderson try, Doak con, 12-10; 18: Marin try, Marin con, 17-12; 32: Marin try, 12-20; 40(+1): Marin pen, 12-23. Half-time: 12-23. 45: Kendellen try, Doak con, 19-23; 51: Doak pen, 22-23; 57: Kendellen try, 27-23; 79: Doak pen 30-23.

IRELAND: J Osborne (Leinster); C Rankin (Ulster), J Postlethwaite (Ulster), B Carson (Ulster), C Mullins (Bristol Bears); J Humphreys (Ulster), N Doak (Ulster); G Saunderson (Ulster), E de Buitléar (Connacht), S Illo (Leinster); M Morrissey (Leinster), H Sheridan (Ulster); A Soroka (Leinster), A Kendellen (Munster, capt), D Okeke (Munster).

Replacements: L Bishop (Nottingham University) for Illo (38 mins-h/t, HIA); B Moxham (Ulster) for Rankin, C Forde (Connacht) for Humphreys (both h-t); R Crothers (Ulster) for Okeke (47); R Loughnane (Leinster) for De Buitlear (52); J Boyle (Leinster) for Saunderson (63).

Yellow card: J Postlethwaite (9 mins).

ITALY: L Pani; F Vaccari, T Menoncello, F Drago, S Gesi; L Marin, M Albanese; L Rizzoli, T Di Bartolomeo, I Neculai; G Ferrari, N Piantella; L Andreani (capt), R Vintcent, L Cannone.

Replacements: M Baldelli for Bartolomeo (57 mins); M Hasa for Neculai, A Garbisi for Albanese (both 58); F Schiabel for Menoncello (67); M Spagnolo for Rizzoli, M Ferrarin for Pani (both 70); F Boschetti for Ferrari (72); Neculai for Hasa (76).

Yellow card: L Andreani (51 mins).

Referee: Sam Grove White (Scotland).

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