It was an emotional day all round in Manchester on Saturday when Ireland beat New Zealand 33-24 in the World Rugby U20 Championship, but nobody fluctuated as violently through the full gamut of emotions as Irish hooker Adam McBurney.
The Ballymena native, one of the Irish players with previous experience of this tournament and playing against the Baby Blacks, was sin-binned after 18 minutes.
At the time, Ireland had cut the gap to 7-6 and it took New Zealand just a few minutes to race in for their second try.
McBurney’s yellow card for a deliberate knock-on was debatable — New Zealand’s double try scorer Malo Tuitama got away with a similar offence in the second half — but he went from villain to hero on his return when he burst over for a great try.
“I didn’t think it was a yellow card personally but you can’t really go back. When I came on I had to do something to make up for it and thankfully I got a breakaway there for the try and got seven points back on the board,” said the sports science student.
There were remarkable scenes in the Ireland dressing room afterwards as they tried to come to terms with the significance of a first win over New Zealand by an Irish national men’s side against New Zealand.
“The lads were buzzing in the changing room and we couldn’t believe we had done it. But everyone put in 110% and that’s what we asked for. I couldn’t be any prouder of the boys.
“We thought before the game there was an opportunity to attack this New Zealand side. And we knew if we didn’t bring our A game for the whole 80 minutes, we wouldn’t get a result.”
The Irish set-piece, after wobbling initially against Wales, has been the bedrock of their wins over the Six Nations Grand Slam winners and the reigning world champions and McBurney said it is something they have worked really hard on.
“One of our opportunities in attack we were looking at was the maul. We really focused on that in training. We got a try against Wales last week off it.
“This time we got two tries off it, we got a breakaway and a maul over. Our lineout is really functioning well and it’s something we are going to take forward coming into the last few games of the tournament.”
Ireland face Georgia tomorrow night knowing that a win will take them into the semi-final stage for only the second time ever — two years ago they were defeated 45-23 by eventual winners England in New Zealand.
But having come behind to win away to England in the Six Nations and then repeat it against Wales last week and follow it up against the Baby Blacks, McBurney believes this team can go a long way.
“If you said to us when we were 17 points down and below the sticks against Wales that we were going to be two from two in the next couple of days, the lads would have looked at you, and I think everyone would have looked at you. But now we are going into Georgia with our heads high and confidence boosted and hopefully we can go through to the semis and then hopefully the final.”
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