England Under-20s 20 Ireland Under-20s 9
The Ireland Under-20s’ Grand Slam dreams were dashed by a powerful England outfit at Adams Park tonight.
Mike Ruddock’s youngsters were outscored by three tries to none with Anthony Watson, man-of-the-match Dan Robson and Marland Yarde all touching down.
Captain Paddy Jackson landed penalties after 9 and 33 minutes to keep Ireland in touch at the break, 15-6 down.
Jackson kicked a third but Yarde’s unconverted effort and a vastly superior scoring difference in the final table saw the English retain the Six Nations title.
England, France and Ireland all finished on eight points apiece with four wins out of five matches, and Rob Hunter’s English side triumphed thanks to a scoring difference of +129.
Ruddock’s charges slid from the summit to third place but they can still take plenty of positives from the campaign, with a number of new players stepping up to the mark.
The Irish management had underlined the importance of first-up tackling before this final round encounter, but a couple of defensive slips allowed England in for a first minute try.
Full-back Watson scorched over for a converted try after just 40 seconds, with England holding dominance of both possession and territory in the first half.
Watson wriggled away from two loose tackles in midfield and weaved in behind the posts for a stunning opener, which Tom Heathcote comfortably converted.
Although there were signs of early nerves from Ireland, strong tackling from JJ Hanrahan and Aaron Conneely forced an English knock on and a Luke McGrath kick relieved the pressure.
A late challenge on McGrath as he passed from a lineout offered Jackson his first shot at the posts, and he duly delivered from 40 metres out.
The Irish skipper came up out of the defensive line to almost pick off an intercept as England spread the ball wide near halfway, however the home side were soon over for their second try.
A move straight off the training ground saw them spring scrum half Robson through a gap at the tail of a lineout, and he burst away to score to the right of the posts.
Strong scrummaging near the Irish line kept England at bay until a succession of penalties put the visitors’ defence under more pressure and JJ Hanrahan was sin-binned for hands in the ruck.
It was a harsh call from referee Claudio Blessano as Hanrahan looked to be on his feet as he pinched the ball. Heathcote mopped up by converting the close range for 15-3.
Ireland replied with a second penalty from Jackson, seven minutes before the break, and they dug their heels in impressively while missing their inside centre.
Into the second period, two sniping runs from the influential Robson got England on the attack and with Ireland guilty of kicking possession away the hosts’ third try was soon awarded.
Yarde barged over from close range after a good surge from fellow winger Charlie Walker. Heathcote missed the difficult conversion from the left.
Stuart Olding, one of Ireland’s replacements, showed some nice touches on his introduction and shortly afterwards England’s try-line was threatened for the first time.
Hanrahan sent a clever dink over the top of the home defence and in his attempt to quickly offload the ball, hooker Niall Scannell fumbled it five metres out from the whitewash.
On the hour mark, the fresh legs of Jordan Coghlan pumped away down the left touchline and further carries from Tadhg Beirne and Olding earned a kickable penalty which Jackson knocked over.
With 18 minutes remaining, an improving Ireland were now 11 points behind and Hanrahan offered further hope with a slashing break through the middle.
Despite Ireland’s resurgence, they continued to be starved of territory and a series of handling errors spoilt good approach work from the forwards.
England threatened on the counter as Walker broke into space but his pass to the left eluded the supporting Watson and Ireland scrambled back to retrieve possession.
Ireland kept pressing for an opening in the closing minutes, yet Conor Finn’s 75th-minute sin-binning for foul play left them shorthanded and they were ultimately frustrated by England’s dogged defence.
ENGLAND U-20: Anthony Watson (London Irish); Marland Yarde (London Irish), Will Addison (Sale Sharks), Ryan Mills (Gloucester), Charlie Walker (Harlequins); Tom Heathcote (Bath), Dan Robson (Gloucester); Alec Hepburn (London Wasps), Koree Britton (Gloucester), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), Tom Price (Leicester Tigers), Dom Barrow (Leeds Carnegie), Matt Kvesic (Worcester Warriors), Chris Walker (Leeds Carnegie) (capt), Jack Clifford (Harlequins).
Replacements: Nathan Morris (London Wasps), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), Ross Harrison (Sale Sharks), George Merrick (Harlequins), David Sisi (London Irish), Ben Spencer (Saracens), Sam Hill (Exeter Chiefs), Ben Ransom (Saracens).
IRELAND U-20: Shane Layden (Buccaneers/Connacht); Conor Finn (Buccaneers/Connacht), Chris Farrell (Dungannon/Ulster), JJ Hanrahan (UL Bohemians/Munster), Foster Horan (Lansdowne/Leinster); Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster) (capt), Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster); Des Merrey (Clontarf/Leinster), Niall Scannell (Dolphin/Munster), Kyle McCall (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Iain Henderson (Queen's University/Ulster), Daniel Qualter (Buccaneers/Connacht), Conor Gilsenan (UCD/Leinster), Aaron Conneely (Corinthians/Connacht), Jack Conan (Old Belvedere/Leinster).
Replacements: James Rael (Garryowen/Munster), Peter Reilly (Lansdowne/Leinster), Jake Cawley (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Tadhg Beirne (Lansdowne/Leinster), Jordan Coghlan (UCD/Leinster), Kieron Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht), Cathal Marsh (Dublin University/Leinster), Stuart Olding (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster).
Referee: Claudio Blessano (Italy)
RBS UNDER-20 6 NATIONS:
England Under-20s 20 Ireland Under-20s 9, Adams Park
Scorers: England U-20s: Tries: Anthony Watson, Dan Robson, Marland Yarde; Con: Tom Heathcote; Pen: Tom Heathcote
Ireland U-20s: Pens: Paddy Jackson 3
HT: England U-20s 15 Ireland U-20s 6