Ireland Under-20 beat their English counterparts 16-15 in a nail biting finish on Friday evening at a spirited Dubarry Park in Athlone. Ulster’s very own Rory Scholes made a dart for the corner in the closing minutes with two penalties and a match winning conversion from the boot of Tom Daly snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
The opening minutes of the game witnessed an excellent penalty from Exeter Chiefs out-half Henry Slade, a result of Ireland not releasing on the ground gifting England a 3-0 lead in the early exchanges. A responsive Daly attack from the centre broke the defensive line and lead to a penalty for the hosts, only to be pushed wide by the Lansdowne clubman. Captain Luke McGrath showed his skill and leadership around the park, encouraging his forwards and providing good platform ball for his backs in the first quarter of the game.
A high level of ill-discipline produced a disjointed first-half with either side struggling to generate momentum and secure ball on the front foot. Passionate displays and moments of dangerous aggression lead to the first card of the match, as England’s flanker Ross Moriarty performed a risky dump tackle on Ireland’s faithful McGrath to see red in the 23rd minute. Daly then stepped up for the penalty to draw his side level at 3-3. However, it was England who went into the changing room as the leading side with Slade’s trusty left boot slotting two penalties in quick succession.
Ruddock’s men came out fighting at the start of the second-half through a Daly penalty, the result of some strong forward and back inter-changes, which involved a threatening Scholes. Some costly errors from the Irish lead to another chance for Slade to nail another 3 points and as expected proved successful.
Just as Daly gained points for the men in the green, he later went off his feet at a ruck and earned himself a yellow with both sides now down to fourteen. Slade continued his impeccable form to take advantage of the error and stretch the margin out to nine points. The experienced Robbie Henshaw then took his opposite number Ben Howard out in the air to add to the contingent of Irish players watching on from the sidelines.
With Daly off the field, Scholes took over the kicking duties and managed to lift Irish spirits with a well-taken penalty. Another sin-binning resulted in England’s lock Elliott Stooke returning to the dugout for bringing down an Irish maul illegally.
The host’s then found themselves in the English 22 and playing a flowing style of rugby nearing the remaining minutes of the game. The Irish forwards drove down the left side as the recycle allowed Daly to switch pace and direction to the right, finding Henshaw who launched Scholes into attack and over the line for an impressive touchdown.
Speaking after the game, Scholes shared his thoughts on scoring his first try for an Irish Under-20 side: “It was nice. It was quite cool and was made even more special as it was the winning try against England. Hopefully we will take some momentum from our win into the next game against Scotland and push on towards the final stages of the competition”, he said.
A heroic Daly showed his worth by converting the try in potential match-winning conditions as a gasp from the crowd signalled Ireland’s triumphant comeback. The final scenes saw a valiant defensive effort from the Irish with McGrath fittingly kicking into touch for a one point 16-15 win over a physical English side.
Ireland U20s Lineup:
Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Connacht); David Panter (Corinthians/Connacht), Tom Daly (Lansdowne/Leinster), Mark Roche (Lansdowne/Connacht), Rory Scholes (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster); Rory Scannell (Dolphin/Munster), Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster) (capt); Peter Dooley (Lansdowne/Leinster), George McGuigan (Newcastle Falcons/Exiles), Chris Taylor (Malone/Ulster), Gavin Thornbury (UCD/Leinster), John Donnan (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Peadar Timmins (UCD/Leinster), Ryan Murphy (Dolphin/Munster), Conor Joyce (Malone/Ulster).
Replacements used: Sean McCarthy (Shannon/Munster) for Thornbury (11-15 mins, blood sub), Ryan Furness (Worcester Warriors/Exiles) for Taylor (31), McCarthy for Donnan (58), Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster) for Timmins (60), Adam Boland (Lansdowne/Connacht) for Furness (72), John Andrew (Ballymena/Ulster) for McGuigan, Darren Sweetnam (UCC/Munster) for Scannell (both 74). Not used: John Creighton (Malone/Ulster), Eogháin Quinn (Lansdowne/Leinster).
England U20s Lineup:
Ben Howard (Worcester Warriors); Jack Arnott (Exeter Chiefs), Mark Jennings (Sale Sharks), Sam Hill (Exeter Chiefs), Henry Purdy (Leicester Tigers); Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs), Alex Day (Northampton Saints); Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi (Northampton Saints), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), Scott Wilson (Newcastle Falcons), Elliott Stooke (Gloucester), Dom Barrow (Leeds Carnegie), Ross Moriarty (Gloucester), Joel Conlon (Exeter Chiefs), Jack Clifford (Harlequins) (capt).
Replacements used: Nathan Morris (London Wasps) for Hobbs-Awoyemi (half-time), Nathan Fowles (Sales Sharks) for Day (49 mins), Harry Wells (Leicester Tigers) for Conlon, Tom Collins (Northampton Saints) for Purdy (both 68), Danny Herriott (Northampton Saints) for Wilson (70), Tom Jubb (Saracens) for Stooke, Will Hooley (Northampton Saints) for Slade (both 78). Not used: Max Crumpton (Saracens).
The final moments of this game were a really treat for any rugby supporter. A young Irish side coming back from the punishment of an exceptional boot and overcoming an English team, who typically were the dominant physical force up front, epitomises the spirit contained within the underage national setup.
Tom Daly had an outstanding game if we minus his yellow card from the equation, which I think is fair to do so. He threatened the English defence on a number of occasions with his sheer strength and pace and his courageous landing of the winning kick simply put the icing on the cake for the centre. McGrath was impressive as always and lead well under pressurised circumstances, with Scholes representing his Ulster province in fine style. The Belfast Harlequins man took his try well and looked dangerous on the attack when provided with quick ball.
The forwards worked well together as a unit and fronted up to the best of their ability against the physical demons in white. The scrum looked pressured at times but has improved immensely since the squad’s run out against Wales last week. Ryan Murphy put in a good shift at seven and looked good defensively against what was a team of mountain men.
A fantastic result for the Under-20 side and one would fancy their chances come the 22nd of February against Scotland. As Scholes put it, the “momentum” shall carry them through.