A wonderful individual try from fly-half Jack Crowley capped a man of the match performance as Ireland got the defence of their Under-20 Six Nations title off to a flying start with a bonus-point win over Scotland.
The Munster sub-academy playmaker scored his second try of the match on the stroke of half-time with a brilliant showcase of his vision, footwork, pace, and power as he picked up the ball in front of his own five-metre line, stepped two Scottish defenders on the Irish 22, sprinted into the visitors 22 and then fended off full-back Ollie Smith before touching down behind the posts.
It was the high point of an entertaining match that saw the class of 2020 continue the winning streak for Noel McNamara’s Under-20s having won the Grand Slam in 2019.
If that had put pressure on his latest squad, there was little sign of it at Musgrave Park last night.
Ireland were intent on laying down a marker, a point evident by the decision of captain David McCann to turn down the opportunity of three points from in front of the posts after just 11 minutes.
Ireland instead took a scrum and from the set-piece scored seven instead of three. Crowley, who was playing for Bandon Grammar a year ago, collected them all, with a sharp line to take a pass from prop Charlie Ward for the try, which he then converted.
The second try also came from a scrum on 23 minutes but not before Scotland had levelled, with a try from hooker Ewan Ashman, converted by Nathan Chamberlain.
This was enjoyable fare and Ireland added to the show by again taking a scrum rather than kick at goal inside the 22, forward power getting them to the line with vice-captain and Grand Slam ever-present tighthead Thomas Clarkson converting possession into five points.
Crowley converted but again Scotland found a reply, six minutes before the interval and this time through an excellent finish in the corner from left wing Jack Blain after a prolonged period of pressure which saw Ireland concede a number of penalties before their line was breached.
Chamberlain could not convert from the touchline, leaving Scotland trailing by 14-12 and before the half was out their deficit was nine points at 21-12 thanks to Crowley’s brilliant score and conversion.
Ireland wasted little time racking up the bonus point just three minutes into the second half as Leinster wing Andrew Smith followed up his hat-trick for the U20s against a Munster development side on the same pitch over Christmas with an excellent finish in the left-hand corner to widen the gap further, Crowley’s conversion making it 28-12.
McNamara’s team were not done, though, and it was another great score, hooker Tom Stewart making a blistering break down the right wing with lock Tom Ahern matching him for pace on his shoulder.
Stewart timed his pass outside to perfect and Munster’s Ahern found another gear to accelerate from the 22 to the try line and over.
Crowley missed his first kick of the night with his fifth conversion attempt from the right touchline and it appeared to matter little with Ireland holding a 33-12 lead after 48 minutes. Yet Scotland had not given up and to their credit hit back with a try from Chamberlain on 61 minutes, the fly-half converting his own score to close the gap to 14 points.
Yet Ireland were not about to blow their advantage and a late try off a driving maul rubber-stamped victory, replacement prop Ciaran Ryan grabbing the sixth try.
Scotland kept fighting and replacement fly-half Cameron Scott earned his side a bonus point themselves with an 85th-minute try.
O McNulty; E McIlroy, D Kelly, H Hyde (L Faria, 52), A Smith; J Crowley (T Corkery, 74), L Finlay (B Murphy, 76); C Ward (C Ryan, 40-43 & 58), T Stewart (J McKee, 58), T Clarkson (R McMahon, 76); B Deeny, T Ahern (J McCarthy, 69); S O’Brien, M Hernan (L Soroka, 74), D McCann - captain.
O Smith; J Henry, M Currie, R McCallum, J Blain (R McLean, 46); N Chamberlain (C Scott, 75), R Frostwick (K McGhie, 65); M Wilson (G Breese, 65), E Ashman (R Jackson, 33 & 78), D Gamble; K Watt (J Campbell, 60), C Henderson; J Hill (G Brown, 60), C Boyle, R Darge - captain.
Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy)