Ireland’s hopes of bouncing back from their home defeat to England and setting up a potential U-20 Six Nations title died in north Wales last night when they were unable to deal with an excellent home scrum.
The Irish defence had contained waves of Welsh attacks and on rare forays into the home half, Ross Byrne picked off a couple of penalties to cancel efforts at the other end.
But then it all changed approaching the break. The dominant Welsh scrum presented out-half Jarrod Evans with a third penalty opportunity and he made no mistake from just outside the 22 on the left.
The put Wales 9-6 in front a minute from the break but then they struck a telling blow with some excellent offloading down the right after No.8 Jon Fox had made the initial break, ended with centre Owen Watkin getting over. Evans added the extras to make it 16-6 at the interval.
Ireland had done well to hold the Welsh prior to that. Evans gave Wales an early lead with a penalty from the left but Ireland hit back and Byrne landed a good penalty from 45 metres.
And when Evans again edged the Welsh in front after 25 minutes, when Ireland were penalised in the scrum, Byrne hit back to level matters six minutes from the interval, this time landing a penalty from 35 metres on the left.
Wales continued to control proceedings after the restart and once again the Irish scrum coughed up a penalty, which Evans landed from 35 metres to extend their lead to 19-6.
Once again Ireland responded positively when Byrne landed an excellent penalty.
Evans missed his first kick of the night shortly after that and Ireland’s perseverance was rewarded when Byrne landed his fourth penalty, to cut the gap to 19-12 with 19 minutes.
But the prospect of a comeback suffered a big blow when Italian referee picked out loosehead prop Jeremy Loughman after another scrum went backwards and dished out a yellow card after 65 minutes.
And yet Ireland did not concede a score while they were down a man and were still jut seven adrift when Loughman returned and they piled on the pressure.
Stephen Fitzgerald went close to snatching the crucial try but was held up short and while Ireland finished on the front foot they were unable to find a way through as Wales held on for victory.
Ireland will now look to wrap up their campaign on a high note and prevent a third successive loss in this championship when they travel to take on Scotland next weekend before regrouping for the U-20 World Cup in Italy in June.
Wales: O Watkin try; J Evans 4 pens, con. Ireland: R Byrne 4 pens.
J Gage; J Adams, O Watkin (B Nightingale 76), G Smith, R Williams; J Evans, T Williams; L Garrett, R Elias (L Belcher 66), D Lewis (A Jeffries 78); J Davies, R Thornton; H Keddie (A Beard 76), O Griffiths, J Fox (J Viggers 66).
B Dardis; C Gaffney, G Ringrose, S Arnold, S Fitzgerald; R Byrne (J Carbery 77), N McCarthy (C Young 77); J Loughman, Z McCall (A McBurney 73), O Heffernan (C O’Donnell 66); C Romaine (D O’Connor 50), J Murphy; N Timoney, C Oliver (A Porter 66-76, S McVeigh 76)), L Dow.
E Rizzo (Italy).