England 45 Ireland 21: Twenty-one points was enough to win each of the two previous World Rugby U20 Championship finals and only twice has a team scored more than that and lost, but you got the impression at the AJ Bell Stadium on Saturday evening that no matter what Ireland scored, England would nab more.
The start that Ireland craved went England’s way and so too did the marginal referee calls and those two factors combined to take the oxygen out of Nigel Carolan’s side in their bid for a first ever World Rugby U20 Championship.
Their maiden appearance at this level was no disgrace against an English side who have appeared in seven of the nine finals — winning three — but there were times when you feared that the hosts were going to mount a huge score.
That they didn’t was testimony to the character of this side as England came at them in waves, the experience gleaned by so many of their players at Premiership level proving decisive.
Indeed, if Ireland are to go one step further at some stage and win this title, you suspect they will need more PRO12 knowhow on board.
Only Jacob Stockdale has any real experience of that level in this squad and he has just half a dozen appearances for Ulster.
Ireland did well initially to sustain the waves of pressure and managed to disrupt several English lineouts but the first scrum would always be key, and it arrived towards the end of the opening quarter.
Ireland got a good shove on and when English tighthead Billy Walker popped up under pressure from Andrew Porter, who is eight kilogrammes heavier, you presumed it would be a penalty to Ireland. Kiwi referee Paul Williams went the other way and pinged Ireland and you just knew from there that one of Ireland’s main weapons had been decommissioned.
In fairness, England had superiority all over the place, out-half Harry Mallinder orchestrated everything in a superb display where he contributed 25 points, just three short of the record in a final held by Tyler Bleyendaal.
The pressure inevitably coughed up tries and by the interval England had three on the board and were 21-0 in front thanks to efforts from impressive Harlequins centre Joe Marchant, Newcastle Falcons’ Callum Chick and Worcester’s Huw Taylor got in for tries.
Mallinder killed off any hopes of a comeback with a brace of tries in the third quarter, although hooker Adam McBurney gave Ireland hope with his third try of the tournament off a good lineout move.
And centre Shane Daly also struck after a superb break from deep by full-back Stockdale.
Bur Marchant got a second try before Max Deegan crossed late in the match, also for his third try of the tournament.
And there was some consolation for the No.8 and Ireland when Deegan was later that night announced as the U20 World Rugby player of the year.
Coach Carolan said he expects many of the Irish U20s to go and win senior caps. He said they should be so proud of their performances at the World Rugby U20 Championship after achieving the highest finish in the nine-year history of the tournament.
“It’s been an immense tournament for these guys. These guys took a lot of flak during the Six Nations because they were trying to be ambitious and made some mistakes.
“To turn Wales over in the first game after being 17 points down, it takes real team character and team spirit to be able to do things like that.
“I think that’s what character and spirit enabled us to beat New Zealand in the second game and became the first Irish men’s team to beat New Zealand, is a massive accomplishment for these young men and something that’s going to carry right through for the rest of their careers,” said Carolan.
Scorers for England:
Tries: H Mallinder (2), J Marchant (2), C Chick, H Taylor. Cons: Mallinder (6). Pens: Mallinder
Scorers for Ireland:
Tries: A McBurney, S Daly, M Deegan. Cons: J McPhillips (2), B Connon
M Malins; S Aspland-Robinson, J Marchant, J Williams, M Gallagher; H Mallinder, M Green; L Boyce, J Singleton, B Walker; S South, H Taylor; G Nott, W Evans, C Chick.
H Randall for Green (32), W Stuart for B Walker (53), A Kitchener for South (61), J Willis for Nott (61), T West for Boyce (65), C Piper for Singleton (69), O Thorley for Gallagher (72), M Wright for Aspland-Robinson (72)
J Stockdale (Belfast Harlequins); M Byrne (Terenure), S Daly (Cork Con), C O’Brien (Clontarf), H Keenan (UCD); J McPhillips (Queen’s University), S Kerins (Sligo); A Porter (UCD), A McBurney (Ballymena), B Betts (Young Munster); S O’Connor (Cashel), J Ryan (Lansdowne); G Jones (UCD), D Aspil (St Mary’s RFC), M Deegan (Lansdowne)
J O’Brien (UCD) for C O’Brien (56), B Connon (Newcastle Falcons) for McPhillips (57), V O’Brien (Cork Conr) for McBurney (61), K Brown (Shannon) for Brown (62), N Saunders (Epsom College/Exiles) for Kerins (70), E Mintern (Cork Constitution) for O’Connor (70), A Coyle (Naas) for Betts (75), J Bollard (Dublin University) for Porter 79)
Paul Williams (New Zealand)
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