Murphy's 'fearless' U20s beat England to win Grand Slam

Richie Murphy's Irish U20s side dug in deep to overcome a battling English side in a sold out Musgrave Park. 
Murphy's 'fearless' U20s beat England to win Grand Slam

FEARLESS: Ireland head coach Richie Murphy with his 'fearless' U20 Grand Slam winning side. Pic: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Richie Murphy praised his “fearless” Ireland Under-20s Six Nations side after the class of 2023 made it back-to-back Grand Slams with their 36-24 victory over England in Cork.

An English side which was reduced temporarily to 13 men following a 49th-minute yellow card for wing Tobias Elliott and the 53rd-minute sending off of fly-half Monty Bradbury staged a late comeback two tries in the last 15 minutes to make get within a converted score of the hosts at 31-24 before Ireland saw off the rally with a Fintan Gunne try two minutes from time.

Two tries apiece from wing Hugh Gavin and No.8 and man of the match Brian Gleeson plus another try from prop George Hadden has laid the foundation for victory with fly-half Sam Prendergast converting three of them in a performance that saw Ireland repeated launch attacks from deep inside their own half and dominate much of the collisions between forwards and at the set-piece.

No wonder head coach Murphy agreed his players had been fearless.

“They were (fearless). In fairness they have been all the way through, haven’t they? Going in at half time five points up playing into the wind in the second half was going to be difficult but they were really brave the way they played.

“England loaded the back field, giving us the front line and asking us to play and in fairness the lads played and did it very well.

“Really good play off one of the re-starts to get out and that ended up in Henry (McErlean)’s (tip) tackle that ended up in a red card (for Bradbury).

“Fearless definitely but loads of things to work on and with a World Cup coming up it’s exciting times for these guys.” Murphy took the English fightback in his stride, confident his own players would find a solution.

“The game just got broken up. A little bit distracted and the lads couldn’t quite finish it off which made it difficult. Our scrum came under a little bit of pressure. I still thought we had quite a lot of control in the game and when we got out of our end we were okay again.

“Twenties rugby is a little bit like that anyway, there’s big flow shifts and when you’re in your 22 it’s very hard to hold the opposition out.” Murphy praised his assistant coaches Mark Sexton, Aaron Dundon and Willie Faloon for getting continuing growth out of the squad across the course of the campaign. 

Ireland had kicked off with a 44-27 away win against Wales in Colwyn Bay, then claimed a major scalp for the second season in a row by edging past France 33-31 on home turf in Cork in round two. A 44-27 victory in Italy was followed by a thumping 82-7 win over Scotland in Glasgow to set up the Grand Slam game back at home in Musgrave Park.

“Massive progression in the few weeks,” Murphy said. “A lot of credit has to go to the coaches, Aaron, Mark Sexton, Willie Faloon they’ve done an incredible job in preparing these guys and we’ve really been running a professional set up over the last few months since Christmas and the guys have really benefitted from that.

“The France game was a little bit too hairy. I thought we should really have controlled that but we probably let it slip. We showed great character at the end of the game to come back in and finish it off.

“Last week I thought the first 40 minutes of rugby (against the Scots) was close to flawless. I thought that was incredible to get to that level at Under-20s.

“They were very calm all week. Very controlled. We watched the senior game together yesterday which was really a unique experience. Lads were singing in the team room. Then afterwards we sat down and started analysing what can we learn from that game and they were starting to pick out things that they wanted to do today.

“We didn’t get it all right, but we got enough right to get over the line.” Ireland now have their sights trained on the World Under-20 Championships in South Africa from June 24 to July 14, the first such tournament since the Covid pandemic.

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