Spirited Ireland fight back to down Grand Slam champions Wales
Nigel Carolan’s side were 17-0 down in first half of opening match
Ireland fullback Jacob Stockdale touches down for a try in the World Rugby Under-20 Championship at Manchester City Academy Stadium. Photograph: Dave Howarth/Inpho/Camerasport/
Ireland 26 Wales 25
Well, this was some way to start the summer rugby programme as Ireland came from 17-0 down after just 20 minutes to somehow carve out a thrilling win in their first game of the World Rugby Under-20 Championship.
The sizeable Irish following at Manchester City Academy Stadium feared a record defeat as Grand Slam winners Wales raced into what appeared a three-try lead.
But Nigel Carolan’s men are made of stern stuff and for the fourth game in a row they came from behind to fashion a win which sets up a probably pool decider against reigning world champions New Zealand back here on Saturday.
Ireland never panicked and struck for a brace of tries before the break which brought them back into contention and they were well on top after the restart.
“When we regrouped with about 10 minutes to go in that first half and we got two tries, it just gave us that momentum for the second half,” said Carolan.
“We carried that through and we put Wales under unbelievable pressure. We got our noses in front and we did well to keep it there. We knew they were going to throw the kitchen sink at us in the last few minutes but the lads showed unbelievable character to close it out in the end.”
Flanker Shaun Evans got over for the first Welsh try after a penalty to the left corner after 12 minutes as the Six Nations champions opened with a swagger which suggested they would have the bonus point in the bag by the interval.
Ireland, who lost tighthead Conor Kenny to injury after six minutes, fell further behind when Jones sent his scrumhalf Reuben Morgan-Williams through, with the outhalf converting to make it 17-0 after 20 minutes.
But slowly Ireland got into the game and got confidence by building the phases.
Debutant outhalf Bill Johnston got them off the mark with a drop goal after a couple of penalties to the left corner yielded nothing more substantial.
That score settled Ireland and by half-time they cut the gap to 17-15 as they took hold of the game.
Welsh fullback Rhun Williams did well to get back to deny Shane Daly as Ireland attacked from deep.
But Ireland piled on the pressure and another penalty to the left corner saw them get the drive on and hooker Adam McBurney got over after 37 minutes.
It got better for Ireland before the break. Fullback Jacob Stockdale started the move on his own line and several phases later was on hand to score in the right corner, with Johnston’s conversion cutting the gap to just two at the interval.
Jones drew first blood for Wales two minutes after the restart with a penalty from 35 metres but the Irish response was good.
Johnston landed an excellent kick from 38 metres and a barrage of surges at the Welsh line did not find a way through, the Clonmel native tapped over another penalty to edge Ireland in front for the first time in the game after 51 minutes.
Ireland continued to grow in confidence and were willing to take more risks but excellent handling ensured Wales kept being pushed back, with the likes of Max Deegan, Greg Jones, skipper James Ryan, Stockdale and centres Daly and Conor O’Brien outstanding.
Carolan’s men struck a huge blow 13 minutes from the end when a superb move involving Ryan, McBurney and O’Brien ended with Stockdale going over in the left corner. Johnston’s conversion from the touchline skipped the wrong side of the right post.
That ensured a nervous finish holding on to a six points lead, and that advantage was cut to the minimum two minutes from time when Giles got his second try.
But Billy McBryde narrowly missed the conversion from the left touchline and Ireland completed the win deep inside the Welsh half.
SCORERS – Ireland: J Stockdale 2 tries, A McBurney try; B Johnstone 2 pens, drop goal, con. Wales: K Giles 2 tries, S Evans, R Morgan-Lewis try each ; D Jones pen, con.
IRELAND: J Stockdale (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster); M Byrne (Terenure/Leinster), S Daly (Cork Con/Munster), C O’Brien (Clontarf/Leinster), H Keenan (UCD/Leinster); B Johnston (Garryowen/Munster), S Kerins (Sligo/Connacht); A Porter (UCD/Leinster), A McBurney (Ballymena/Ulster), C Kenny (Buccaneers/Connacht); C Gallagher (Sligo/Connacht), J Ryan (Lansdowne/Leinster); G Jones (UCD/Leinster), D Aspil (St Mary’s RFC/Leinster), M Deegan (Lansdowne/Leinster).
Replacements: B Betts (Young Munster/Munster) for Kenny (6 mins), K Brown (Shannon/Munster) for Aspil (70 mins), J O’Brien (UCD/Leinster) for C O’Brien (77 mins), V O’Brien (Cork Con/Munster) for McBurney (77 mins).
WALES: R Williams; T Williams, J Thomas, H Millard, K Giles; D Jones, R Morgan-Williams; C Domachowski, D Hughes, D Lewis; S Lewis-Hughes, A Beard; T Phillips, S Evans, H Keddie.
Replacements: J Macleod for Evans (30 mins), Evans for Macleod (40 mins), L Belcher for Hughes (44 mins), L Brown for Lewis (65 mins), J Evans for Jones (65 mins), Macleod for Evans (65 mins), D Smith for for Morgan-Williams (65 mins), R Fawcett for Domachowski (72 mins).
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand).