ENGLAND UNDER-20s 48 IRELAND UNDER-20s 15
The Ireland Under-20s suffered an alarming collapse in the final quarter of their final U-20 Six Nations game as England ran riot to win 48-15 in Coventry, writes Dave Mervyn
Noel McNamara’s youngsters played much of the rugby up to the 55th minute, with first quarter tries from James Hume and captain Tommy O’Brien, who ran in an intercept effort, twice putting them in front.
A Harry Byrne penalty on the stroke of half-time brought the visitors level at 15-all, in response to England’s opening two tries from Ben Loader and Fraser Dingwall.
However, man-of-the-match Gabriel Ibitoye’s brilliant counter-attacking run from deep inspired a Ben White try nearing the hour mark, and things then unravelled for Ireland with O’Brien sin-binned for pulling back Loader when he was set to run onto a kick ahead.
During the Leinster Academy starlet’s absence, the visitors leaked two more tries, and too often they were guilty of playing into England’s hands with individual errors proving particularly costly.
While the powerful English side finished their tries well, too often they were created on the back of Irish mistakes in attack - loose or blocked kicks, turnovers, missed lineouts and missed tackles.
Ireland fell well out of contention in the closing stages, with fatigue and injuries taking their toll, as tries from Joe Heyes (65 minutes), Ibitoye (70), Josh Basham (71) and captain Ben Earl (76) sealed a runaway victory. It was not enough to win the title in the end as France lifted the trophy following their 24-3 bonus point win in Wales.
There were little between the sides in a firecracker of an opening quarter, Ireland gaining encouraging territory with a terrific clearance kick from Hugh O’Sullivan and Michael Silvester also prodded through up to the English 22.
Ireland were almost rewarded for a pacy move when Angus Curtis released Angus Kernohan but Jordan Olowofela got across to make a try-saving tackle. The score came in the very next phase, Jack O’Sullivan and Jack Dunne winning back possession from a botched English lineout and Tommy O’Brien gobbled up Byrne’s grubber kick on the right wing to pass inside for winger Hume to finish off, eight minutes in.
Byrne missed the difficult conversion and England were level just a few minutes later, Ireland giving up a soft penalty from the restart and Loader beat Silvester to James Grayson’s cross-field kick and touched down in the left corner.
Five points apiece then became 12-5 to Ireland, the home side blundering in their attempts to go from deep, and Dingwall’s pass was picked off by O’Brien for a simple run-in from 15 metres out. Byrne converted for a seven-point lead.
However, England ended a frenetic first 20 minutes back on level terms. Initially, Ireland did well with Hume forcing Loader into touch but from O’Sullivan’s subsequent kick, English full-back Olowofela split the defence on the counter and they exploited space on the right as centre Dingwall cut in to score.
Tom Hardwick converted and then his scuffed 25th-minute penalty had the legs to clear the crossbar, although French referee Pierre Brousset’s decision to reward the home scrum was questionable.
Brousset spotted the second of two forward passes from England, allowing Ireland to force the issue in the lead up to the interval. A crooked lineout from the hosts, followed by Marcus Street’s side-entry at the Irish maul, had McNamara’s charges knocking on the door of a third try.
They went through 21 phases, with Jack O’Sullivan, Joe Dunleavy and Jack Aungier all prominent as carriers, but out-half Byrne’s dink through for Kernohan - with a penalty advantage - had too much on it. Byrne resumed by knocking over the straightforward place-kick to bring Ireland level in the 40th minute.
Into the second period, skipper O’Brien was terrier-like when clamping onto a ruck ball after a miscued Irish lineout, the visitors moving the ball at pace but stopped in their tracks by their ninth handling error.
The Irish scrum gave away another penalty before TMO input ruled out a 49th minute try for the fleet-footed Ibitoye, who was adjudged to not have been ‘the last man’ at the ruck he had sprung straight through from.
Unfortunately for industrious Ireland, it was a glimpse of what was to come. They were turned over in the English 22, the ball was moved wide to Ibitoye, and the Harlequins flyer stepped inside Kernohan and evade two tackles to pass for supporting scrum half White to scoot clear from halfway.
It was a gut-wrenching try for Ireland to concede and after Hardwick converted, it went from back to worse for the underdogs as replacement Sean Masterson went off with his right arm in a sling and O’Brien’s yellow card left them with a mountain to climb.
Despite some gritty defence, including a superb Curtis tap tackle on Olowofela which saved a certain try, Ireland could not hold out. Replacement prop Heyes barged over from a few metres out, and after Jonny Stewart’s attempted kick through was blocked down, the ball sat up nicely for Ibitoye to score from a hack downfield.
Ireland soon lost the ball again when on the attack, England launching a kick chase and squeezing the life out of the visitors. Silvester, who was covering a man on the outside, allowed flanker Basham past him on the inside as an increasingly lopsided scoreboard showed 43-15.
Diarmuid Barron’s missed lineout throw once more gave England a licence to attack from their own half, and they were full of running. Ibitoye’s excellent offload gave Earl the chance to crash over from close range, despite the attention of several defenders.
England were now in rampant form and they could have passed the half-century mark in the final minutes, however Ibitoye missed out on his side’s eighth try when he lost control of the ball as he dived for the line.
Ireland finished third in the final table, eight points behind France and England who were comfortably the most consistent teams in this year’s U-20 Six Nations. The challenge now for the McNamara-led management team and players is to learn some harsh lessons from the last few weeks and come back as a stronger unit for the summer’s World Rugby U-20 Championship in France.
Scorers: England U-20s: Tries: Ben Loader, Fraser Dingwall, Ben White, Joe Heyes, Gabriel Ibitoye, Josh Basham, Ben Earl; Cons: Tom Hardwick 5; Pen: Tom Hardwick
Ireland U-20s: Tries: James Hume, Tommy O’Brien; Con: Harry Byrne; Pen: Harry Byrne
TIME LINE: 8 minutes - Ireland try: James Hume - 0-5; conversion: missed by Harry Byrne - 0-5; 11 mins - England try: Ben Loader - 5-5; conversion: missed by Tom Hardwick - 5-5; 16 mins - Ireland try: Tommy O’Brien - 5-10; conversion: Harry Byrne - 5-12; 19 mins - England try: Fraser Dingwall - 10-12; conversion: Tom Hardwick - 12-12; 25 mins - England penalty: Tom Hardwick - 15-12; 40 mins - Ireland penalty: Harry Byrne - 15-15; Half-time - England 15 Ireland 15; 55 mins - England try: Ben White - 20-15; conversion: Tom Hardwick - 22-15; 60 mins - Ireland yellow card: Tommy O’Brien; 65 mins - England try: Joe Heyes - 27-15; conversion: Tom Hardwick - 29-15; 70 mins - England try: Gabriel Ibitoye - 34-15; conversion: Tom Hardwick - 36-15; 71 mins - England try: Josh Basham - 41-15; conversion: Tom Hardwick - 43-15; 76 mins - England try: Ben Earl - 48-15; conversion: missed by Tom Hardwick - 48-15; Full-time - England 48 Ireland 15
ENGLAND U-20: Jordan Olowofela (Leicester Tigers); Gabriel Ibitoye (Harlequins), Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints), Tom Hardwick (Leicester Tigers), Ben Loader (London Irish); James Grayson (Northampton Saints), Ben White (Leicester Tigers); Toby Trinder (Northampton Saints), Henry Walker (Gloucester), Marcus Street (Exeter Chiefs), Dino Lamb (Harlequins), James Scott (Worcester Warriors), Josh Basham (London Irish), Ben Earl (Saracens) (capt), Sam Moore (Sale Sharks).
Replacements used: Gabriel Oghre (Wasps) for Walker (51 mins), Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers) for Street (56), Sam Lewis (Leicester Tigers) for Scott (58), Tom Seabrook (Gloucester) for Loader (61), Alex Seville (Gloucester) for Trinder (62), Ted Hill (Worcester Warriors) for Lamb (68), Rory Brand (London Irish) for White (71), Will Butler (Worcester Warriors) for Olowofela (75).
IRELAND U-20: Michael Silvester (Dublin University/Leinster); James Hume (Banbridge/Ulster), Tommy O'Brien (UCD/Leinster) (capt), Angus Curtis (Queen's University/Ulster), Angus Kernohan (Ballymena/Ulster); Harry Byrne (UCD/Leinster), Hugh O'Sullivan (Clontarf/Leinster); Jordan Duggan (Naas/Leinster), Eoghan Clarke (Wanderers/Leinster), Jack Aungier (St. Mary's College/Leinster), Matthew Dalton (Malone/Ulster), Jack Dunne (Dublin University/Leinster), Joe Dunleavy (Malone/Ulster), Matthew Agnew (Ballymena/Ulster), Jack O'Sullivan (UCC/Munster).
Replacements used: James French (UCC/Munster) for Duggan, Sean Masterson (Corinthians/Connacht) for Dunleavy (both 51 mins), Diarmuid Barron (Garryowen/Munster) for Clarke (55), Ronan Coffey (Shannon/Munster) for Masterson, Conor Dean (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) for Byrne (both 58), Jonny Stewart (Queen’s University/Ulster) for O’Sullivan (60), Tom O’Toole (Banbridge/Ulster) for Aungier (61), Sean O’Brien (Clontarf/Leinster) for Hume (65).
Referee: Pierre Brousset (France)