Ireland nailed the first of three possible Triple Crown successes this weekend when Noel McNamara’s side produced their best display of the campaign to oust England at Franklin’s Garden.
Hopefully, this is a foretaste of what’s to come this weekend against the old enemy and aside from making it three wins from three, Ireland remain on course to repeat their grand slam win of last season.
Certainly, the quality of this display suggests there is even more to come from this side as they brushed aside England with a sublime display that manifested itself in attack in the opening half and in defence after the restart.
Ireland dominated the first half and deservedly led 29-7 at the break after some breath-taking rugby which had England on the back foot at a venue where they'd never lost an U20 game.
Ireland’s ability to offload under pressure and the willingness of both backs and forwards to run at England gave them a platform which they used to build multi-phase movements and they had the bonus point in the bag by the break.
They set the tone when they crossed the gain-line seven times in the opening five minutes and while a Jack Crowley penalty was all they had to show for the early blitz, they had laid down a firm marker.
England, playing their first match after wins away to France and Scotland, hit back and went to the corner with their first penalty after eight minutes.
Harlequins lock George Hammond won the lineout and after 19-stone No.8 Rusiate Tuima bored a hole in the defence, Hammond peeled around and got through for a try which George Barton converted to make it 7-3.
Ireland, with scrum-half Lewis Finlay again superb in his decision-making, built phase after phase and confidently took the ball forward.
A 19-phase move yielded the opening try for flanker Alex Soroka after 19 minutes, with Finlay timing the final pass perfectly for the former Belvedere College player to drive through Hammond and centre Connor Doherty to score for an 8-7 lead after Crowley was unable to convert.
Ireland pushed on from there with some superb controlled rugby, confidently taking the ball into contact and offloading with ease.
They kept pushing England back and it was no surprise when they increased their lead after 27 minutes with another multi-phase move, which was finished by Hayden Hyde after a brilliant offload by flanker Sean O’Brien put Ethan McIlroy away in the right corner; the Ulsterman executing a spectacular pass for his provincial teammate to score. Crowley added the extras from the right touchline to lead 15-3.
The Irish fans in the crowd of over 6,000 had plenty to admire and a 12-phase move yielded a third try five minutes from the break with impressive full-back Oran McNulty, Hyde and McIlroy heavily involved in creating the opportunity which 6’9” lock Thomas Ahern finished after hooker John McKee cracked a few holes in the home defence.
Crowley converted to make it 22-7 and Ireland finished the half in style when Hyde provided the final pass for McIlroy to end a 17-phase move with their fourth try, with the conversion giving them a 29-7 interval advantage.
England hit back after the restart with lock Hugh Tizard getting them back in contention when he scored after 46 minutes. However, the Irish response was again impressive with skipper David McCann leading the way and full-back McNulty creating the overlap in midfield which saw replacement Max O’Reilly exchange passes down the left with Andrew Smith to score.
That made it 34-14 after 52 minutes before a try from hooker Theo Dan four minutes later gave England hope, but Ireland wrapped up an impressive win when McNulty made the metres after a turnover and Ahern was on hand to score his second of the night.
Scorers — England: Tries: G Hammond, H Tizard, T Dan. Cons: G Barton (3).
Ireland: Tries: T Ahern (2), A Soroka, H Hyde, E McIlroy, M O’Reilly. Cons: J Crowley (3). Pens: Crowley.
England: F Steward; G Hamer-Webb, C Doherty (M Ojomoh 74), C Watson, T Roebuck; G Barton (W Haydon-Wood 74), S Maunder (B Boyland 74); S Crean (E Iyogun 40), T Dan (B Atkins 68), L Green (H Beaton 40); H Tizard (C Munga 53), G Hammond; R Capstick, J Gray (R Farrar 53), R Tuima.
Ireland: O McNulty (Connacht); E McIlroy (Ulster), D Kelly (IQ Rugby), H Hyde (Ulster) (M O’Reilly (Leinster) 49), A Smith (Leinster); J Crowley (Munster) (T Corkery (Leinster) 36-41, 78)), L Finlay (Ulster) (B Murphy (Leinster) 74); M Hanan (Leinster) (C Ward (Leinster) 56), J McKee (Leinster) (T Stewart (Ulster) 56), T Clarkson (Leinster) (H Noonan (Leinster), 78); T Ahern (Munster) (J McCarthy (Leinster) 74), B Deeny (Leinster); A Soroka (Leinster) (C Prendergast (Leinster) 62), S O’Brien (Leinster), D McCann (Ulster).
Ref – B Blain (Scotland).