England 33 Ireland 9
Mike Ruddock maintains the U20 level is as much about teaching young players lessons for the tougher tests ahead as it is about winning matches, and this season’s crop are certainly learning plenty about the school of hard knocks.
Ireland never looked like winning this Six Nations encounter in Northampton on Saturday evening, but a gap of 24 points is a huge injustice as the curtain came down on a dismal day for Irish rugby.
Ireland started disastrously and even when they came back into the contest and traded on parity, the reigning Six Nations and Junior World Cup champions dished out a painful lesson in clinical finishing to an Irish side that squandered chances and failed to score a try for the second game in succession.
“You obviously set out to try and win the Six Nations but you also need to build a squad to bring to the World Cup, while you also need to try out players at this level and help them develop,” explained Ruddock.
“And I saw enough in this game, despite the scoreline, to suggest that these boys can play some good rugby. We just need them to be more clinical and, if I’m honest, I think we need to get the rub of the green and that has not happened in our last two matches.”
Few could argue with him on that count. Already without key forwards Jack O’Donoghue and Sean O’Brien, he lost debutant flanker Michael Triggs after just three minutes to a leg injury.
By then England were off the mark with a penalty from Billy Burns, younger brother of Gloucester’s and England’s Freddie, and when full-back David Busby got nabbed retrieving a punt, a wicked deflection went England’s way and with Irish scum-half Nick McCarthy held back illegally, Maro Itoje got the touchdown.
It set the trend for a frustrating encounter. England were 13-0 in front after eight minutes but Ireland, with out-half Ross Byrne pulling the strings, hauled their way back with Peter Dooley, Peadar Timmins and Dan Leavy leading the charge up front.
Byrne landed three penalties before the break to make it 16-9 at the interval and Ireland again took charge after the restart, but 14 phases inside the English half failed to yield a score, with Adam Byrne having a TMO decision go against him in the left corner.
Ruddock admitted: “There was a critical time after Adam Byrne got over the line but the try wasn’t given and there were a series of scrums. We were in the ascendancy, there were a load of penalties and then we were given a free-kick, which was a bit strange after having a series of penalties. But we had a rush of blood there, we tapped and went.
“That was a critical moment because we lost the ball, they hacked downfield and scored and the game was over. It was a key moment and part of the learning for young men.
“I said it to the boys afterwards that when you have a team under pressure, if it is the lineout, the scrum or if it is the defence close in on the ruck is suspect, then keep working in that area and don’t let them off the hook by moving away from that area.”
England sealed a flattering win with tries from Howard Packman, Nick Tompkins and the impressive Joel Conlon.
Scorers for England: Tries: M Itoje, H Packman, N Tompkins, J Conlon. Cons: B Burns (2). Pens: B Burns (3).
Scorer for Ireland: Pens: R Byrne (3).
ENGLAND: N Earle; Z Kibirige, N Tompkins, H Sloan, H Packman; B Burns, C Braley; A Lundberg, H Thacker, S Wilson; M Itoje, C Ewels; R Moriarty, J Conlon, J Chisholm.
Replacements: H Purdy for Earle, 46; D Hobbs-Awoyemi for Lundberg, 50; J Walker for Thacker, 50; H Taylor for Braley, 54; S Olver for Burns, 60; P Hill for Itoge, 78.
IRELAND: D Busby (Ulster); C Kelleher (Leinster), D Goggin (Munster), P Robb (Leinster), A Byrne (Leinster); R Byrne (Leinster), N McCarthy (Leinster); P Dooley (Leinster), M Abbott (Munster), R Burke (Munster); P Timmins (Leinster), R Molony (Leinster); M Triggs (Leinster), D Leavy (Leinster), F Taggart (Ulster).
Replacements: S Gardiner (Leinster) for Triggs, 3; H Brewer (Leinster) for Goggin, 60; S McNulty (Munster) for Abbott, 60; C McKeon (Leinster) for Busby, 60; J Joyce (Exiles) for Leavy, 65; O Heffernan (Leinster) for Burke, 69; J Cullen (Munster) for Kelleher, 75.
Referee: L Linton (Scotland).
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