The quest for back-to-back Under-20 Grand Slams gathered pace in Cork last night as reigning champions Ireland swept to a second consecutive bonus-point Six Nations victory.
Ireland had gone in front from the second minute and not looked back, with two tries from flanker Mark Hernan and further scores from backs Dan Kelly, man of the match Lewis Finlay and Andrew Smith as well as four conversions and a penalty from fly-half Jack Crowley seeing Noel McNamara’s side home with a five-try haul for the second game in succession.
The head coach had made three changes to the side which had kicked off the campaign in Cork seven days earlier with a 38-26 win over Scotland.
Two were enforced by illness, both right wing Ethan McIlroy and his Ulster housemate Hayden Hyde going down with mumps in short succession.
Another Ulsterman, Ben Moxham, earned his U20 debut on the wing, with Leinster’s Luis Faria promoted from the bench to replace Hyde at inside centre.
The other change came at loosehead prop where Marcus Hannan replaced fellow Leinster front-rower Charlie Ward, who dropped to the bench.
Yet Ireland did not miss a beat and had their bonus point secured on the stroke of half-time.
It had been a perfect start for the home side, fly-half Jack Crowley’s kick-off finding touch on the Welsh five-metre line and the visitors, who had been beaten 17-7 at home by Italy in Colwyn Bay the previous Friday, once again finding life tough under pressure.
From their lineout, the attempted clearance from scrum-half Daf Buckland was charged down by flanker Hernan, who touched down over the line to put Ireland on the scoreboard after just 75 seconds.
Crowley added the conversion and McNamara’s side were up and running.
A second try followed on 18 minutes and once again sprang from Irish pressure on the Welsh lineout, this time as the home set-piece disrupted the throw and drove Wales back, turning over the ball on the try line.
Two phases later and Ireland had their five points as centre Dan Kelly powered over.
Ireland were motoring and carving up their opponents in broken play as well as off set-piece, full-back Oran McNulty collecting a kick from Welsh fly-half Sam Costelow and counter-attacking from deep down the right flank.
McNulty crossed halfway, passed inside to flanker Sean O’Brien who moved the ball crisply onto scrum-half Lewis Finlay to run in unopposed.
Crowley kicked his third conversion of the night to send Ireland 21-0 up on 24 minutes and added a penalty seven minutes later but when the fly-half’s short pass to Brian Deeny went behind the lock on 37 minutes, Wales were alive to the opportunity.
Centre Ossian Knott hacked ahead, Costelow led the chase and when he nudged the ball over the tryline it was Knott who was first to the touchdown for the first Welsh try of the night.
Costelow’s conversion closed the gap a little closer before Irish forward power pushed it wider once again, this time from a driving maul just before half-time to bring up the bonus point, Crowley making it 31-7 at the interval.
McNamara had been unhappy with the way Ireland had switched off in the second half of the Scotland game, allowing them to grab a try bonus point of their own, and his charges appeared to make the same mistake a week later.
The concession of a penalty kicked by Costelow was one thing but there were signs of a Welsh comeback when their driving maul was pulled down and Ireland conceded a penalty try on 49 minutes, losing replacement lock Joe McCarthy to the sin bin as a double whammy from the Georgian referee.
It was credit to the Irish defence that Wales did not add to their 10-0 start to the second half during McCarthy’s absence and the men in green regained further composure when they were restored to their full complement on the hour.
Another Welsh lineout malfunction got Ireland on the front foot again and after concerted pressure it was captain David McCann who delivered the creativity, picking from a tryline ruck and scooping a looping pass to the left corner where wing Andrew Smith was on hand to catch and touch down for the fifth try of the night.
Wales did not lie down, Knott adding his second try of the night in the final 10 minutes but for the second week in a row, Ireland’s emphatic early dominance was enough to see them to victory.
#FutureIsGreen— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) February 7, 2020
Despite the weather, another brilliant crowd here at Irish Independent Park tonight to get behind the Ireland Under-20s ☘️👏
The official attendance is 4⃣,8⃣2⃣2⃣
Thanks for your support, Cork!#ShoulderToShoulder pic.twitter.com/9t4egeoL18
O McNulty; B Moxham (C Rankin, 79), D Kelly, H Hyde, A Smith; J Crowley (T Corkery, 79), L Finlay (B Murphy, 76); M Hannan (C Ward, 54), T Stewart (J McKee, 67), T Clarkson (H Noonan, 79); T Ahern, B Deeny (J McCarthy, 16-26 - HIA & h-t); S O’Brien, M Hernan (C Prendergast, 67), D McCann - captain.
I Lloyd; D John (B Roderick, 53), O Knott, A Owen, E Rosser; S Costelow (J Thomas, 62), D Buckland (E Bevan, h-t); T Bevacqua (C Williams, 61), W Griffiths (D Booth, 53), B Warren (H O’Connor, 65); J Price (J Fender, h-t-45 HIA), B Carter (J Price 71-78 HIA); I Davies (G Bradley, 65), J Morgan - captain, M Strong.
Nika Amashukeli (Georgia).