Italy 25 Ireland 36
THE Irish U-20 side produced a remarkable come-from-behind victory to land an unprecedented Grand Slam and Six Nations championship double.
Eric Elwood’s side came from 20-7 down to beat the Italians, who were fielding an U-21 side in this competition, and lift the title.
The Irish, skippered by inspirational number eight David Pollock, made a surprisingly sluggish start in the warm sunshine of Benevento as the hosts’ beefy forward unit took control.
Centre Natale Duca, Italy’s 17-point hero in their win over Wales last weekend, landed a close range penalty to open the scoring. Things quickly lurched from bad to worse for the visitors as the Italian forwards rumbled forward and produced a pushover score for captain Paul Derbyshire.
Duca tagged on the conversion as Italy enjoyed a 10-0 lead.
The Irish began to settle somewhat and good play from scrum- half Conor O’Donohoe and winger Keith Earls, man-of-the-match in Scotland seven days ago, provided an attacking platform for Ireland and prop Cian Healy lifted Irish spirits by muscling over close to the posts on the quarter hour mark.
Ian Keatley added the extras — his first of four successful conversions — but the home side had a stranglehold on possession for the next quarter-hour and they pushed into a 20-7 lead when Duca touched down again after a rolling maul which was converted before the Italians garnered another three points after Ireland lost blindside flanker Thomas Anderson to the sin-bin.
Despite being 13 points in arrears, the Irish never panicked and crucially grabbed their second try on the stroke of half-time when a quick-tap penalty paved the way for Seapoint’s Felix Jones to grab his third try of the tournament.
A stern pep talk from Elwood and his assistant Dan McFarland had a galvanising effect on the Irish who took control from the kick off to the second period.
As the visitors’ superior fitness began to tell, lightning-quick centre Darren Cave dashed past two tacklers, close to the Irish ten-metre line, and romped over for a brilliantly-taken try.
The Belfast Harlequins star, who was scoring for the second successive game, was part of last year’s U21 squad and is still only 19.
Keatley converted, cutting the gap to 20-19, and the UCD out-half got amongst the tries himself on 49 minutes when he ran in a seven-pointer after taking an interception in midfield.
After a Keatley penalty, it was the turn of his half-back partner Conor O’Donohoe to gleefully touch down. It has been a remarkable week for the UCD Arts student who has been named as one of Leinster’s additional players for the Heineken Cup’s knock-out stages.
Fifteen minutes in, the Irish were 36-20 ahead and coasting to their fifth win of the championship.
In the closing stage hard-working lock McInerney was sin binned and Italian number six Duca got over for his second try but there was no denying Elwood’s young charges.
Scorers for Italy: Tries: P Derbyshire, N Duca 2; Cons: D Duca 2; Pens: D Duca 2.
Scorers for Ireland: Tries: C Healy, F Jones, D Cave, I Keatley, C O’Donohoe; Cons: Keatley 4; Pen: Keatley.
ITALY U21: G Rubini (Overmach Cariparma); M Sepe (AlmavivA UR Capitolina), A Sgarbi (Benetton Treviso), D Duca (Consiag I Cavalieri Prato), G Pavan (Overmach Cariparma); P Buso (Cammi Calvisano), F Semenzato (Benetton Treviso); P Sciamanna (Arix Viadana), D Giazzon (Marchiol San Marco), A De Marchi (Overmach Cariparma), A Saccardo (Carrera Petrarca Padova), L Beccaris (Cammi Calvisano), N Duca (Arix Viadana), F Cristiano (Cammi Calvisano), P Derbyshire (Rolly Gran Parma, capt).
Replacements: F Minto (Overmach Cariparma) for Derbyshire (28-30 mins, blood), L Giovanchelli (Carrera Petrarca Padova) for Giazzon (50), T Tebaldi (Rolly Gran Parma) for G Pavan (54), Minto for Beccaris (58), N Gatto (Carrera Petrarca Padova) for De Marchi (62), E Ceccato II (Benetton Treviso) for Sciamanna (66), R Pavan (Overmach Cariparma) for Sepe, F Flammini (Mantovani Pol. Lazio 1927) for Saccardo (both 71).
IRELAND U20: F Jones (Seapoint/Leinster); S Monahan (Dublin University/Leinster), D Cave (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), A Wynne (Buccaneers/Connacht), K Earls (Thomond/Munster); I Keatley (UCD/Leinster), P O’Donohoe (UCD/Leinster); C Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), R Sweeney (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), J Hagan (Greystones/Leinster), C McInerney (UCD/Leinster), A Browne (Galwegians/Connacht), T Anderson (Dungannon/Ulster), K Sheahan (UCD/Leinster), D Pollock (QUB/Ulster, capt).
Replacements: N Keogh (UCC/Munster) for Browne (55 mins), R Murphy (Lansdowne/Leinster) for Healy (56), D Drake (Ballymena/Ulster) for O’Donohoe (70), G Slattery (Young Munster/Munster) for Sweeney, N O’Connor (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster) for Keatley (both 77).
Referee: David Rosich (France)