Cormac Foley's 77th-minute try made it an opening night to remember for the Ireland Under-20s at Musgrave Park as they came from 11 points down to defeat a highly-regarded England outfit 35-27.
Ireland's debut at their new home ground in Cork was marked by an unforgettable Six Nations bonus-point success, which saw man-of-the-match Dylan Tierney-Martin cross for two tries, Harry Byrne kick a crucial 15 points, and Leinster flanker Scott Penny and replacement Foley also touch down for the resilient side.
A free-scoring and hugely entertaining first half produced five tries and 44 points, Ireland's concessions being somewhat self-inflicted with early tries from Cadan Murley and Tom Willis giving England a 14-3 lead. However, Tierney-Martin and the tireless Penny touched down either side of a Josh Hodge solo effort to cut the gap to 21-20.
A late Marcus Smith penalty had the visitors four points up heading into the closing 40 minutes, but England could only muster one more penalty from Tom Hardwick despite Ireland losing prop Michael Milne to the sin-bin. Adding to Tierney-Martin's second score, Byrne kicked his third penalty of the night and converted Foley's decisive try from a five-metre scrum.
Although Jonathan Wren missed out on an early intercept try due to insufficient advantage played to England, Noel McNamara's youngsters did hit the front thanks to a well-struck fifth-minute penalty from out-half Byrne. Flanker-turned-hooker Tierney-Martin won the decision at the breakdown, but a dangerous Hardwick break soon had the English attack motoring towards the 22.
Ireland gave away a gift of a try in the 11th minute when some miscommunication and a loose midfield pass, which Jake Flannery partially got his boot to, was swooped upon by winger Murley who finished neatly on the left. Smith converted and they added a second opportunist score a few minutes later, Ireland being turned over and the senior-capped Ted Hill juggled a pass before linking with Sam Maunder who drew Flannery and put Willis in under the posts.
The England back row were getting on top with openside Hill standing out, until an inspiring run by strong-carrying number 8 John Hodnett brought Ireland back into the visitors' 22. Unforced errors prevented them from progressing further as a well-won penalty from Martin Moloney by spoiled by an obstruction call against Niall Murray at the subsequent lineout maul.
However, it all clicked for the Irish attack on the 30-minute mark, Ross Byrne's younger brother breaking slickly over halfway and combining with captain David Hawkshaw and Conor Phillips. Armed with a penalty advantage and just a few metres out, the forwards took over with a couple of bites at the cherry before Connacht Academy forward Tierney-Martin muscled in under the posts and Byrne converted.
That good work was undone when English full-back Hodge won an aerial contest with Flannery and immediately took off, exploiting the space afforded to him by the overshooting Phillips and Hodnett. Smith converted from straight in front, only for Ireland to hit back with a Byrne penalty and a smashing 37th-minute try. Liam Turner tore through the English midfield, quickly followed by the pack with Penny's grounding against the right hand post confirmed by TMO Denis Grenouillet.
England pressed for a late try before the interval and despite a forward pass spoiling a successful move which saw them go over in the right corner, Smith's reliable right boot tagged on a penalty goal to make it 24-20. Ireland reclaimed the lead within five minutes of the restart, Hawkshaw leading the charge before a Charlie Ryan-won lineout in the left corner was driven over for Tierney-Martin to complete a fine brace.
After Byrne narrowly missed the conversion, Ireland again coughed up points as Josh Wycherley was caught in an offside position and Hardwick registered the three points for a 27-25 scoreline. The hosts suffered a further setback when skipper Hawkshaw had to hobble off, but they recovered impressively again when full-back Flannery embarked on a superb individual run and Byrne booted them back in front from a 54th minute penalty.
England, who had seven starters who played in last summer's World Rugby U-20 Championship final, enjoyed a prolonged purple patch in and around the hour mark, with Ireland holding them out in determined fashion. Ryan stole a crucial lineout five metres from his own line, Byrne denied Murley from a Hardwick chip over the top, and then replacement Michael Milne held up Willis from another maul attempt in the left corner.
Loosehead Milne was soon awarded a yellow card, though, as French referee Ludovic Cayre singled him out for two successive scrum penalties five metres out. Just as England looked set to use their numerical advantage and grab their fourth try, they were guilty of an early push at the next scrum and Ireland had a relieving free-kick.
The game continued to ebb and flow with neither side able to move the scoreboard in a tension-gripped final quarter. Aaron Hinkley was pinged for hands in the ruck, but Byrne made a poor connection with the long-range penalty for his only miss off the night. Suddenly, England were scrambling back as replacement Cameron Redpath produced a try-saving tackle on Flannery who had almost broken free up the left touchline from a Wren pass.
Nonetheless, with their scrum rebounding well, it was McNamara's charges who held their nerve to record the Ireland U-20s' first win over England since 2016 - and the first on home soil in the U-20 Six Nations since 2013. Fittingly, it was a Corkman, replacement Sean French, whose break up the right wing eventually forced Hill to concede a five-metre scrum.
With the vocal 5,764-strong crowd roaring them on, a neat 8-9 move off the base of the Irish set piece saw Foley finish superbly on the stretch despite shipping two tackles. Byrne stepped up to land a precise conversion from the right, the pressure kick putting Ireland out of reach and also taking the losing bonus point away from England.
TIME LINE: 5 minutes - Ireland penalty: Harry Byrne - 3-0; 11 mins - England try: Cadan Murley - 3-5; conversion: Marcus Smith - 3-7; 15 mins - England try: Tom Willis - 3-12; conversion: Marcus Smith - 3-14; 30 mins - Ireland try: Dylan Tierney-Martin - 8-14; conversion: Harry Byrne - 10-14; 31 mins - England try: Josh Hodge - 10-19; conversion: Marcus Smith - 10-21; 34 mins - Ireland penalty: Harry Byrne - 13-21; 37 mins - Ireland try: Scott Penny - 18-21; conversion: Harry Byrne - 20-21; 40+1 mins - England penalty: Marcus Smith - 20-24; Half-time - Ireland 20 England 24; 45 mins - Ireland try: Dylan Tierney-Martin - 25-24; conversion: missed by Harry Byrne - 25-24; 48 mins - England penalty: Tom Hardwick - 25-27; 54 mins - Ireland penalty: Harry Byrne - 28-27; 63 mins - Ireland yellow card: Michael Milne; 68 mins - Ireland penalty: missed by Harry Byrne - 28-27; 77 mins - Ireland try: Cormac Foley - 33-27; conversion: Harry Byrne - 35-27; Full-time - Ireland 35 England 27
Ireland Under-20s: Tries: Dylan Tierney-Martin 2, Scott Penny, Cormac Foley; Cons: Harry Byrne 3; Pens: Harry Byrne 3
England Under-20s: Tries: Cadan Murley, Tom Willis, Josh Hodge; Cons: Marcus Smith 3; Pens: Marcus Smith, Tom Hardwick
HT: Ireland Under-20s 20 England Under-20s 24
IRELAND U-20: Jake Flannery (Shannon/Munster); Conor Phillips (Young Munster/Munster), Liam Turner (Dublin University/Leinster), David Hawkshaw (Clontarf/Leinster) (capt), Jonathan Wren (Cork Constitution/Munster); Harry Byrne (Lansdowne/Leinster), Craig Casey (Shannon/Munster); Josh Wycherley (Young Munster/Munster), Dylan Tierney-Martin (Corinthians/Connacht), Thomas Clarkson (Dublin University/Leinster), Charlie Ryan (UCD/Leinster), Niall Murray (Buccaneers/Connacht), Martin Moloney (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Scott Penny (UCD/Leinster), John Hodnett (UCC/Munster).
Replacements: John McKee (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Michael Milne (UCD/Leinster), Ryan Lomas (Galwegians/Connacht), Brian Deeny (Clontarf/Leinster), David McCann (Banbridge/Ulster), Cormac Foley (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Sean French (Cork Constitution/Munster), Rob Russell (Dublin University/Leinster).
ENGLAND U-20: Josh Hodge (Newcastle Falcons); Ollie Sleightholme (Northampton Saints), Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints) (capt), Tom Hardwick (Leicester Tigers), Cadan Murley (Harlequins); Marcus Smith (Harlequins), Sam Maunder (Exeter Chiefs); Olly Adkins (Gloucester), Nic Dolly (Sale Sharks), Marcus Street (Exeter Chiefs), Joel Kpoku (Saracens), Alex Coles (Northampton Saints), Ted Hill (Worcester Warriors), Aaron Hinkley (Gloucester), Tom Willis (Wasps).
Replacements:Ben Atkins (London Irish), Bevan Rodd (Sale Sharks), Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers), James Scott (Worcester Warriors), Rusiate Tuima (Exeter Chiefs), Ollie Fox (Yorkshire Carnegie), Cameron Redpath (Sale Sharks), Ollie Lawrence (Worcester Warriors).
Referee: Ludovic Cayre (France)