Ireland’s Under 20s failed to hold on to a half time lead as basic errors cost them a second victory at the Junior World Cup. Simon Bracken reports.
Both sides went into this game in good form having secured excellent victories in their respective opening games. England started as favourites due to their status as Six Nations champions and their extremely strong squad. Ireland were looking to continue the trend of upsets following their win over the hosts.
England made a strong start, getting over the gain line with impressive regularity earning an early penalty which Tom Heathcote converted.
Ireland soon had an opportunity to cancel out that score but JJ Hanrahan pulled a straightforward penalty. However, much as he did in the South Africa match, he quickly regained his composure with some excellent tactical kicking.
Neil Ruddock’s youngsters slowly gained a foothold in the game and on the quarter hour mark they scored the first try of the game. Ireland counter attacked from a poor clearance and a crucial missed tackle from Addison allowed Daly into the English 22. The ball was recycled quickly before being shipped on to Hanrahan who withstood pressure from three tacklers to stretch over the line. The out-half converted to make it 7-3.
Addison’s evening went from bad to worse a few minutes later as he was shown a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Tadhg Beirne, who impressed once again in the second row.
Beirne partner in crime Ian Henderson was beginning to dominate the line-out and from one steal on the Irish ten metre line, Connacht scrum half Kieran Marmion made a devastating break before passing to Sam Coughlan Murray who was stopped just five metres from the try line. England lost another player for ten minutes for hands in the following ruck putting then down to 13 men.
Ireland scored from the resulting scrum capitalising on a weak blindside as Jack Conan put Marmion in for an easy try. Hanrahan couldn’t convert from the touchline leaving the underdogs with a 12-3 lead.
As in their first match the Irish back row were omnipresent but sadly Conor Gilsenan’s match was cut short by a potentially serious knee injury.
The men in green continued to dominate with Hanrahan pinning the English back in a manner reminiscent of his fellow Munster man Ronan O’Gara. In contrast the Six Nations champions continued to struggle with the boot in the horrendous conditions.
Barry Daly came close to a try in the corner but was forced into touch before he could ground the ball. The chance was created by a lovely pop pass from Hanrahan to Coughlan who powered through the gap in the opposition defence. Coughlan was having a superb game, a particularly impressive feat given that he had spent the afternoon at Stellenbosch University doing his Leaving Cert.
A few minutes before the break Hanrahan kicked a penalty to leave the score 15-3. However, given that the green pack was in the ascendancy perhaps they should have backed themselves for another try.
England started much stronger in the second half and pounced on some indecision from Daly to force a penalty which Heathcote converted
Hanrahan failed to capitalise on an opportunity to restore the 12 point lead from a penalty much to his clearly audible frustration.
Robson replaced Ben Spencer at scrum half an instantly upped the tempo of the English play coming agonisingly close to a try from a quick tap inside the Irish 22.
However, the pivotal moment was the resulting scrum. The men in white steamrolled their counterparts and Shane Buckley had a rush of blood to the head and took out the number eight and was rightfully shown a yellow card. Sadly Buckley has previous, making a similar error in last year’s tournament, calling his reliability under pressure into question.
England capitalised on their man advantage scoring a second try just moments later from a driving line out. Harlequins’ tighthead Kyle Sinckler the major force behind the recovery. Heathcote converted beautifully and in the blink of an eye Ireland’s lead had evaporated.
Ruddock’s men were tiring and basic errors cost them the chance to overturn the deficit as England held saw the game out comfortably in the end.
Ireland will be bitterly disappointed with this defeat having put themselves in such a commanding position at half time. Buckley will also be furious with himself for having let his team down. His indiscipline and a few missed kicks ultimately cost Ireland. Questions must be asked of Ruddock’s reluctance to bring on substitutes as the players were clearly flagging after a second big defensive effort in four days.
All is not lost however. If Ireland can get a bonus point victory over Italy and South Africa defeat England with neither side getting a bonus point they will qualify for the semi-finals.