Ireland 42 England 26
The nature of the win won’t matter but the victory will resonate for many a day. Noel McNamara’s Grand Slam champions beat England for the second time in 2019, on this occasion in the opening game of the Junior World Championship in Santa Fe.
They’re a remarkable bunch of young players who play with the utter conviction and belief, undaunted by setbacks or the occasional imperfections of performance. Ireland made mistakes, gave up some soft scores, yet against a gargantuan England side, they never took a backward step, stuck to their game plan and when it came down to it, their opponents blinked first.
Ireland scored six tries to England's three and the vanquished will rue rank indiscipline, manifested in two yellow cards and a red card that saw them play almost 40-minutes of the game a man short. Singling out Irish players seems invidious but John Hodnett, Dylan Tierney-Martin, Ryan Baird, David McCann, Jake Flannery and a couple of replacements Ronan Watters and Ben Healy deserve special mention.
Even injuries refused to knock Ireland from their playing rhythm. In truth though the plaudits go to all who contributed on the night in securing a victory that will propel Ireland towards Saturday’s seminal meeting against Oceania champions Australia with a pep in their step.
The opening throes mirrored the Six Nations clash earlier in the season in Cork when Ireland gave up an early lead, on this occasion conceding 10 points inside eight minutes. England wing Ollie Sleightholme scored a try after Ireland got a little narrow in defence from a scrum on one side of the pitch which allowed a line break.
Despite a fumble, England managed to work the ball to the other touchline for Sleightholme to beat the despairing tackle of Irish fullback Iwan Hughes. Manu Vunipola added a superb touchline conversion having earlier kicked a penalty.
However this Ireland side has shown all season that they thrive in adversity and from the kickoff responded with a try of their own. Charlie Ryan charged down English scrumhalf Ollie Fox's attempted clearance, re-gathered and although forced into touch, Ireland pinched the subsequent lineout and after several one-out surges close to the English line, outhalf Jake Flannery stepped inside a tackle and dotted down.
He added the conversion and despite conceding another three points to Vunipola, Ireland grabbed a second try thanks to Stewart Moore’s quick thinking, when he spotted that Fox had taken the ball back over his own line, scurried round the side of the ruck and dotted down.
Flannery's conversion gave Ireland a 14-13 lead and when English flanker Aaron Hinkley received a yellow card for a high tackle on Angus Kernohan five minutes from the interval, it sent McNamara's side into the dressing room with a positive mindset but that dissipated in the first five minutes of the second half when they conceded eight points, through Sleightholme's second try and a third Vunipola penalty.
Ireland’s discipline at the breakdown was at the root of their discomfort, sloppy penalties costing them points, field position and allowing England to run down the clock on the sin bin but no sooner had the English been restored to the full complement than they lost Vunipola for a high shot on Hughes.
Ireland maximised their numerical advantage, with flanker David McCann scored a brace of tries, both of which were converted by Ben Healy but in between Irish errors allowed their opponents to surge outside the cover for a third time in the game; wing Tom Seabrook with a fine finish for a try.
England’s chances disintegrated on 66-minutes when replacement hooker Alfie Barbeary received a red card, for lifting Hodnett and dropping him dangerously on his neck/shoulders. Ireland opted for a scrum, England chose to take off wing, Sleightholme so Casey and Healy exploited the space on the short side with the latter crossing in the corner for a try and then adding a brilliant conversion to move the Grand Slam champions into a 35-26 lead.
There was just one final embellishment to come from an Irish perspective and rather fitting that it was the outstanding Hodnett who wrote the postscript to a wonderful victory with Ireland’s sixth try; Healy’s conversion copper-fastened a prodigious impact from the bench.
Scoring sequence: 2 mins: Vunipola penalty, 0-3; 8: Sleightholme try, Vunipola conversion, 0-10; 11: Flannery try, Flannery conversion, 7-10; 24: Vunipola penalty, 7-13; 26: Moore try, Flannery, 14-13. Half-time: 14-13. 42: Vunipola penalty, 14-16; 45: Sleightholme try, 14-21; 50 mins: McCann try, Healy conversion, 21-21; 53: Seabrook try, 21-26; 60: McCann try, Healy conversion, 28-26; 66: Healy try, Healy conversion, 35-26; 75 mins: Hodnett try, Healy conversion, 42-26.
Ireland U-20: I Hughes (Ballynahinch); A Kernohan (Ballymena), L Turner (Dublin University), S Moore (Malone), J Wren (Cork Constitution); J Flannery (Shannon), C Casey (Shannon); J Wycherley (Young Munster), D Tierney-Martin (Corinthians), T Clarkson (Dublin University); C Ryan (UCD, capt), R Baird (Dublin University); D McCann (Banbridge), J Hodnett (UCC), A Allison (Ballymena). Replacements: R Waters (St Mary's College) for Allison 24 mins; B Healy (Garryowen) for Hughes 49 mins; S French Cork Constitution) for Moore 50 mins; M Milne (UCD) for Wycherley 69 mins; D Adamson (Clontarf) for Tierney-Martin 73 mins; C Booth (Sale Sharks) for McCann 73 mins; N Murray (Buccaners) for Baird 73 mins.
England U-20: T de Glanville; O Sleightholme, F Dingwall (capt), C Redpath, T Seabrook; M Vunipola, O Fox; O Adkins, N Dolly, J Heyes; J Kpoku, A Coles; T Hill, A Hinkley, T Willis. Replacements: J Hodge for Vunipola 16-24 mins; A Barbeary for Dolly 61 mins; A Petch for Heyes 64 mins; R Tuima for Willis 64 mins; Dolly for Sleightholme 66 mins; J Kenny for Coles; K Owens for Adkins 66 mins.
Referee: D Murphy (Australia)
Yellow card: A Hinkley (England) 34 mins; M Vunipola (England) 49 mins.
Red Card: A Barbeary (England) 66 mins.