Wales U20s 25 Ireland U20s 26: These underage tournaments are supposed to be more about character-forming than winning but Ireland managed to achieve both aims in an astonishing start to the World Rugby U20 Championship.
They had to come from behind in winning their last three games in the Six Nations but damage limitation seemed to be the order of the evening in Manchester City Academy Stadium when they fell 17-0 behind after just 20 minutes.
“We like to do things the difficult way,” said coach Nigel Carolan, as if it was pre-planned. “But these are young guys, they are learning and they are growing. We made a lot of mistakes in the first-half.
“But at the same time there’s so many more positives out of that game than anything else. Great character to score three tries, and in the manner that we scored them as well. And to close it out in the end, that just shows how tight the group are and what we are dealing with.”
He said they learned a lot when coming from behind to score a notable win over England in the Six Nations in Newcastle. But to recover from 17-0 against the Grand Slam winners of that competition was just unreal.
“If we can get into our rhythm we are a very very good side. We just made it a little bit difficult for ourselves giving Wales a three-try advantage at the start. And at 17-3 it looked like it was going to be an uphill battle.
“But we started to find our rhythm there towards the end of the first-half. We took that into the second-half and we were the dominant side in the second-half. Bearing in mind we had to endure some unbelievable pressure in the last ten minutes.”
Flanker Shaun Evans, exciting winger Keelan Giles and scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams raced in for Wales tries in the opening 19 minutes.
But Ireland never panicked and tries from hooker Adam McBurney and superb full-back Jacob Stockdale cut the gap to 17-15 at the interval before Carolan’s men went on to boss the second-half.
Debutant Bill Johnston, who settled Ireland with a drop goal after 25 minutes, landed two penalties after the restart to edge Ireland in front for the first time.
The Clonmel native produced a fine display along with the likes of skipper James Ryan, No. 8 Max Deegan, flanker Greg Jones, full-back Stockdale and centres Conor O’Brien and Shane Daly.
Superb handling involving Ryan, hooker McBurney and centre O’Brien saw Stockdale go over for his second try 13 minutes from the end.
Jonhston’s conversion from the left touchline narrowly missed the target, leaving Ireland defending a six points lead in the dying moments.
And they endured a nervous finish when Giles got over for his second try two minutes from the end but replacement Billy McBryde was unable to land the difficult conversion which would have won the match.
Ireland closed out the win inside the Welsh half and will now turn their attentions to reigning champions New Zealand next Saturday back in the Manchester City Academy Stadium when they will hope to become the first Irish men’s side to defeat the country which holds both the U20 and senior World Cups.
Scorers for Ireland: A McBurney, J Stockdale 2 tries; B Johnston 2 pens; B Johnston con; B Johnston drop-goal.
Scorers for Wales: S Evans, K Giles 2, R Morgan-Williams tries; D Jones pen; D Jones con.
Ireland: J Stockdale (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster); M Byrne (Terenure/Leinster), S Daly (Cork Con/Munster), C O’Brien (Clontarf/Leinster), H Keenan (UCD/Leinster); B Johnston (Garryowen/Munster), S Kerins (Sligo/Connacht); A Porter (UCD/Leinster), A McBurney (Ballymena/Ulster), C Kenny (Buccaneers/Connacht); C Gallagher (Sligo/ Connacht), J Ryan (Lansdowne/Leinster); G Jones (UCD/Leinster), D Aspil (St Mary’s RFC/Leinster), M Deegan (Lansdowne/Leinster).
Replacements: B Betts (Young Munster/Munster) for Kenny (6, inj), K Brown (Shannon/Munster) for Aspil (70), J O’Brien (UCD/Leinster) for C O’Brien (77), V O’Brien (Cork Con/Munster) for McBurney (77).
Wales: R Williams; T Williams, J Thomas, H Millard, K Giles; D Jones, R Morgan-Williams; C Domachowski, D Hughes, D Lewis; S Lewis-Hughes, A Beard; T Phillips, S Evans, H Keddie.
Replacements: J Macleod for Evans (30), Evans for Macleod (40), L Belcher for Hughes (44), L Brown for Lewis (65), J Evans for Jones (65), Macleod for Evans (65), D Smith for for Morgan-Williams (65), R Fawcett for Domachowski (72).
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand).
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