Ireland U20's beat Italy in difficult conditions

Ireland U20 6 Italy U20 0, Dubarry Park

Ireland U20 6 Italy U20 0, Dubarry Park

Ireland's Under-20s struggled to see off Italy in difficult conditions at Dubarry Park tonight, but two penalties from out-half Martin Dufficy helped them pull through.

Dufficy landed two of his four penalty kicks to steer Eric Elwood's side to victory in an error-strewn game.

Ireland's scrum was strong throughout and with the aid of the left upright, Dufficy opened the scoring in the 15th-minute.

He repeated the dose, three minutes before half-time, after Italian scrum half Luca Martinelli had been sin-binned for killing the ball.

The second half produced little in the way of try-scoring opportunities and the night ended on a sour note when Italian lock Alberto Cazzola was sent-off for throwing a punch.

With none of last year's Grand Slam winners on board, this was a fresh start for the Irish Under-20s and Elwood's current crop made a decent start with Dufficy probing the touchlines with some neat kicks.

Italian number 10 Riccardo Bocchino shunned what would have been a monster penalty attempt but Ireland turned the ball over off the next phase with hooker Stephen Douglas foraging well at the ruck.

A relieving kick from Eoin O'Malley, who claimed the ESB man-of-the-match award, and a lineout steal from David Nolan helped the hosts win a penalty right on the Italian tne-metre line, as the Azzurri were whistled up for going off their feet at a ruck.

Dufficy's kick edged in off the post and Ireland were in front, although they were struck an immediate blow when full-back Niall Morris was helped off with a suspected ankle injury.

His replacement Sean Scanlon was in the action straight away. The UCC flyer was checked after he kicked the ball ahead and Dufficy knocked the penalty into touch.

A jinking run from O'Malley was the highlight as the game moved into its second quarter but with both sides putting in some lacklustre kicks, particularly Italy's Bocchino, and struggling to build through the phases, it quickly turned into a stop-start affair.

Italy attacked through their burly captain Alberto Chiesa in the 24th-minute. He brought play up towards the Irish 22. Bocchino missed with a subsequent penalty but Irish skipper Paul Ryan erred when attempting to break out from under his posts and only a knock-on from Nicola Simion spared Ryan and Ireland's blushes.

Blackrock scrum half David Moore launched a terrific break on the half-hour mark and sent a lovely kick through to the right corner, pinning Italy back but again Ireland could not turn a good position into points.

Poor discipline at the ruck from Martinelli aided the home side in their quest and allowed Dufficy launch a left-sided penalty, from 23 metres out, through the posts for a 6-0 interval scoreline.

Ireland attempted to raise the tempo on the restart, with David Kearney, brother of Leinster and Ireland's Rob Kearney, doing well to chase down a Dufficy kick and put the Italian rearguard under pressure.

Facing 14 men, Ireland opted to kick a subsequent penalty to touch. Douglas found Nolan in the lineout but despite phase after phase of possession, Ireland lacked some much-needed penetration and the attack petered out.

O'Malley and Dufficy linked well in the 49th-minute, sending the University of Queen's University's Chris Cochrane into space but the Italians got across to shut him out.

Dufficy, who was making his underage debut for Ireland, then missed two penalty chances - on 57 and 67 minutes - as Elwood's charges attempted to edge a converted score clear but there was still plenty of life in a stubborn Italian side.

The final ten minutes saw both sides have spells in each other's 22. Ireland looked the stronger, with a good, cohesive maul, set up by replacement hooker Jason Harris-Wright, seeing them gain 15 metres.

Frustration got the better of Cazzola who was spotted throwing a punch by a touch judge and Ireland saw out a tight but morale-boosting win, but certainly as O'Malley admitted afterwards, the team will have to up their performance levels to challenge France in Auch next Friday.

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