Ireland to play in World Rugby U-20 final for first time in history

Ireland to play in World Rugby U-20 final for first time in history

The Ireland Under-20s handed Argentina a 30-point thumping in Manchester to qualify for their first ever World Rugby Championship final at this age-grade, writes Dave Mervyn.

Bursting out of the blocks with tries from Jacob Stockdale and man-of-the-match Max Deegan, Ireland used their set piece dominance to lead 21-7 at half-time and ultimately grind the high-flying Pumitas into submission.

Influential out-half Johnny McPhillips landed six of his seven kicks for a 15-point haul, with Stockdale scoring a first half brace of tries and Shane Daly adding the gloss with a late intercept effort.

Nigel Carolan's young team have now matched the achievements of the Ireland U-21 side from 2004 who reached their World Cup decider with current senior star Jamie Heaslip at the back of the scrum.

Ireland's class of 2016 will face tournament hosts England, who were 39-17 semi-final winners over South Africa, in next Saturday’s final at the AJ Bell Stadium in Salford (kick-off 7pm).

Both Ireland and Argentina came into tonight's game as unbeaten pool winners, with Nicolas Fernandez Lobbe's charges brimming with confidence after victories over France, South Africa and Japan.

There were errors from both sides in a nervy opening at the Manchester City Academy Stadium, a crooked lineout spoiling Ireland’s first chance to attack and Argentina were guilty of a couple of knock-ons.

Conor O'Brien, who made some important momentum-building carries in midfield, was the first player to exploit some space in the Argentinian defence and after a pinpoint cross-field kick from McPhillips, pressure from Matthew Byrne saw the ball go loose for the supporting Daly to send Stockdale diving over for an eighth minute try.

The difficult conversion from the right was successfully negotiated by McPhillips whose opposite number Domingo Miotti pushed a penalty effort wide five minutes later.

Some smart tactical kicking from McPhillips kept Ireland in the right areas of the pitch, but Argentina got their tackles in to chop down big carriers like Andrew Porter, Deegan and David Aspil.

The South Americans looked to press from a lineout on the Irish 22, only for Deegan to read a pre-planned move, intercepting a pass and showing brilliant pace to evade out-half Miotti on the way to the left corner. McPhillips swung over a peach of a conversion for 14-0 with 24 minutes gone.

Ireland to play in World Rugby U-20 final for first time in history

It took some excellent maul defence to prevent Argentina from engineering an almost immediate response, second row Sean O'Connor getting in to disrupt and also play his part in a penalty-winning scrum.

The Irish backs then clicked into gear off a crisp James Ryan-won lineout near halfway, the ball being swept out to the left where Hugo Keenan's neat step created a gap and he fed Stockdale who evaded the final defender to raid in behind the posts for his fourth tournament try, with McPhillips converting.

Burly loosehead Porter's dominance of Santiago Medrano in the scrum continued, however two promising Irish attacks broke down and Argentina grabbed a timely score just before the interval. Attacking from a lineout in the Irish 22, Miotti’s clever grubber was touched down behind the posts by his captain Juan Cruz Mallia with the extras quickly added.

Into the second period, Argentina tried to lift the tempo and get their offloading game going, but again Porter stood out in winning a scrum penalty and tireless hooker Adam McBurney pilfered a ruck ball.

Porter, Betts and skipper Ryan were all to the fore in a 50th minute surge that almost led to an Irish try, before McPhillips drilled over a penalty two minutes later to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

Ireland to play in World Rugby U-20 final for first time in history

McPhillips missed a more difficult attempt on the hour mark and a weaving Stockdale run should have built the momentum for a fourth try, however Argentina dug their heels in and Ireland needed strong breakdown work from Aspil to keep the territorial pressure on.

As the Pool A winners continued to control proceedings with ball in hand and the boot, Argentina's discipline gave way and McPhillips punished them with two accurate penalties after 62 and 67 minutes - the second of them an excellent hit from 50 metres out.

The Ulster Academy talent missed a drop goal soon after, with Ireland now 30-7 to the good. Argentina did get back into scoring range, but Ireland's dogged defence was typified by a rip in the tackle by dynamic number 8 Deegan.

The concluding quarter of an hour was rather stop-start with both benches being unloaded, and los Pumitas lost replacement prop Santiago Pulella to a 72nd minute red card after he led with the head on O'Connor at a lineout maul.

The numbers were evened up in injury-time when Irish reserve hooker Vincent O'Brien was sin-binned for a neck roll, however there was still time for centre Daly to intercept a high, desperate pass in the Argentinian 22 and go in under the posts for Brett Connon to convert, wrapping up Ireland's seventh straight win since losing away to France in February.

TIME LINE: 8 minutes - Ireland try: Jacob Stockdale - 5-0; conversion: Johnny McPhillips - 7-0; 13 mins - Argentina penalty: missed by Domingo Miotti - 7-0; 23 mins - Ireland try: Max Deegan - 12-0; conversion: Johnny McPhillips - 14-0; 29 mins - Ireland try: Jacob Stockdale - 19-0; conversion: Johnny McPhillips - 21-0; 38 mins - Argentina try: Juan Cruz Mallia - 21-5; conversion: Domingo Miotti - 21-7; Half-time - Ireland 21 Argentina 7; 52 mins - Ireland penalty: Johnny McPhillips - 24-7; 57 mins - Ireland penalty: missed by Johnny McPhillips - 24-7; 62 mins - Ireland penalty: Johnny McPhillips - 27-7; 67 mins - Ireland penalty: Johnny McPhillips - 30-7; 72 mins - Argentina red card: Santiago Pulella; 80+3 mins - Ireland yellow card: Vincent O’Brien; 80+3 mins - Ireland try: Shane Daly - 35-7; conversion: Brett Connon 0 37-7; Full-time - Ireland 37 Argentina 7

IRELAND U-20: Jacob Stockdale (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster); Matthew Byrne (Terenure College/Leinster), Shane Daly (Cork Constitution/Munster), Conor O'Brien (Clontarf/Leinster), Hugo Keenan (UCD/Leinster); Johnny McPhillips (Queen's University/Ulster), Stephen Kerins (Sligo/Connacht); Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster), Adam McBurney (Ballymena/Ulster), Ben Betts (Young Munster/Munster), Sean O'Connor (Cashel/Munster), James Ryan (Lansdowne/Leinster) (capt), Greg Jones (UCD/Leinster), David Aspil (St. Mary's College/Leinster), Max Deegan (Lansdowne/Leinster).

Replacements used: Jimmy O'Brien (UCD/Leinster) for C O'Brien (61 mins), Vincent O'Brien (Cork Constitution/Munster) for McBurney (65), Brett Connon (Newcastle Falcons/Exiles) for McPhillips, Adam Coyle (Naas/Leinster) for Betts, Niall Saunders (Harlequins/Exiles) for Kerins, James Bollard (Dublin University/Leinster) for Porter, Evan Mintern (Cork Constitution/Munster) for Ryan, Kelvin Brown (Shannon/Munster) for Jones (all 72).

ARGENTINA U-20: Bautista Delguy (Pucara/URBA); Tomas Malanos (Atletico del Rosario/URBA), Juan Cruz Mallia (Jockey Club Cordoba/UCR) (capt), Santiago Mare (Regatas de Bella Vista/URBA), Julian Dominguez (Pucara/URBA); Domingo Miotti (Tucuman Lawn Tennis/URT), Patricio Baronio (Jockey Club Rosario/URR); Ruben Ricco (Universitario/URT), Gaspar Baldunciel (Alumni/URBA), Santiago Medrano (Regatas de Bella Vista/URBA), Franco Molina (Jockey Club Cordoba/UCR), Ignacio Calas (La Tablada/UCR), Marcos Kremer (Atletico del Rosario/URBA), Mariano Romanini (Alumni/URBA), Vicente Boronat (CASI/URBA).

Replacements used: Conrado Roura (Palermo Bajo/UCR) for Calas, Lautaro Bazan (Cordoba Athletic/UCR) for Baronio (both 45 mins), Nicolas Osadczuk (SITAS/URBA) for Mare (52), Bautista Stavile (Mendoza RC/URC) for Boronat, Gonzalo del Pazo (Santa Fe Rugby Club/USR) for Medrano (both 54), Martin Elias (Atletico del Rosario/URBA) for Miotti, Santiago Pulella (Jockey Club Cordoba/UCR) for Ricco (both 61), Roman Pretz (Duendes RC/URR) for Baldunciel (65), Ricco for Romanini (76).

Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys (England)

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