Heartbreak as Ireland’s young stars just miss out on semi-final

Ireland U20s were denied a semi-final berth at the IRB Junior World Championship as hosts South Africa scored a bonus-point win over England to top their pool last night.

Ireland had earlier yesterday got maximum points from their Cape Town Stadium victory over Italy, securing their second win from three in Pool B having also beaten the Junior Springboks in their first game. Their midweek loss to England, though, was to prove costly as the South Africans prevailed 28-15 in their final match against the Red Rose to advance as pool winners by a single point, with incoming Munster coach Rob Penney’s defending champions New Zealand securing best runner-up spot.

Against Italy, Ireland had quickly set about fulfilling their part of the obligation, going three converted tries up inside the first eight minutes.

Peter Nelson, switched from full-back to outside centre for the final pool game, needed no acclimatisation as he scored the opener inside the first minute, Jack Carty adding the extras.

Nelson was instrumental in the second, four minutes later as he kicked ahead, midfield partner Farrell chasing and touching down and less than a minute after the restart, Italy were in deeper trouble as wing Filippo Guarducci spilled a high ball, with Irish back row Aaron Conneely the grateful recipient to gather and streak down the right touchline for his side’s third score.

Carty’s conversion put Ireland 21-0 up, only for Mike Ruddock’s side to lose concentration completely. Ireland had been 27-8 winners over the Italians at Athlone in February during the Six Nations but they let the Azzurri back into this game after 12 minutes.

Attacking the Italian line once more, Buccaneers and Connacht fly-half Carty telegraphed a pass that was intercepted on his own 22 by opposite number Edoardo Padovani, who raced upfield to score a try he converted himself.

There was further calamity from the Irish backs five minutes later when wing Conor Finn spilled the ball, Italy kicked ahead and fellow wing Sam Coghlan Murray failed to gather. As he fumbled, Italy scrum-half Guido Calabrese pounced and Italy were back in it, at 21-12.

Padovani missed the conversion and Ireland settled themselves in the 19th minute with a Carty penalty, although they went in at the break, 24-12 up, still needing their fourth try of the game that would deliver the bonus point.

It would take 10 minutes after the interval to achieve that, Nelson again showing his good awareness with clever footwork in front of the Italian defensive line to create space for hooker James Rael to punch through from his pass to get the bonus-point try.

That score, though the conversion was missed, seemed to lift the pressure off Irish shoulders and two more tries followed, from scrum-half Luke McGrath, who collected his own chip to charge over in the 54th minute, and Nelson, who rounded off the scoring 15 minutes from time, leaving Ireland to wait to learnt their fate — but ultimately just missing out.

IRELAND U20: M Sherlock; C Finn, P Nelson, C Farrell (C Marsh, 60), S Coghlan Murray (S Olding, 30); J Carty, L McGrath (K Marmion, 68); D Merry, J Rael (N Scannell, 70), P Reilly (T Furlong, h-t; J Cawley, 58); A O’Connor, I Henderson (S Buckley, 63); A Conneely, J Van de Flier (T Beirne, 47), J Conan — captain.

ITALY U20: M Odiete (G Bisegni, 67); A Morsellino, G Benvenuti, A Bettin, F Guarducci (J Apperley, 66); E Padovani, G Calabrese (M Violo, 62); G Maistri – captain (P Ceccarelli, 60), G Scalvi (G Maistri, 66), L Bortoletti (S Drissi-Panico, 60); M Bellucci (A Zdrilich, 56), A Mammana; R Riccioli, G Zanini (L Conti, 76), V Marazzi (F Conforti, 62).

Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia).

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