Ireland U20 fought to the wire against an impressive Italian outfit in a 25 – 25 draw at a rocking Stadio del Marsi in Avezzano on Friday evening. Tries from David Panter, Jerry Sexton and Ulster’s Rory Scholes combined with two successful conversions and penalties from the boot of stand in out-half Rory Scannell to see the visitors claw back an early 15-0 deficit.
Italy (20) 25
TRY: Vittorio Marazzi, Michele Campagnaro, Giovanni Benvenuti, David Michael Odiete
CON: Edoardo Padovani
PEN: Edoardo Padovani
Ireland (10) 25
TRY: David Panter, Jerry Sexton, Rory Scholes
CON: Rory Scannell (2)
PEN: Rory Scannell (2)
The Italians quickly generated effective phases of possession through some aggressive yet controlled forward play in the opening minutes. Such pressure on the Irish defensive line eventually converted itself into a score for Vittorio Marazzi, who infiltrated the Irish fringes at the ruck to barge over after confirmation from upstairs. Edoardo Padovani added the extras and shattered Irish hopes of a strong start as Italian momentum pursued.
A non-descript kick from centre Scannell lead to another attack from the hosts, penetrating the Irish 22 through some excellent drive and mauling work from their pack leaders. Quick ball soon found its way into the hands of Michele Campagnaro who made a darting run towards the left to secure Italy’s second try in as many minutes, with Padovani narrowly missing the sticks for a conversion.
A further set-back for the Irish came when their inspirational place-kicker Tom Daly left the field, picking up an arm injury in a physically contested ruck. He was swiftly replaced by Panter come the 12th minute with Scannell moving to out-half and taking over the side’s kicking duties. Errors from the Irish started to creep into the scrum and the Italians were soon awarded a penalty, which Padovani successfully landed.
Mike Ruddock’s young charges began to build a reaction to a dominant Italy with a breakthrough eventually coming through an effective back-line interchange. Scholes came close in the centre of the field, spinning out of one tackle and surging towards the line. Captain Luke McGrath then used the recycle to spin it out to Steve Crosbie who seeing space out-wide fed Panter for a score in the corner, Scannell heroically stepping up to nail a tricky conversion from the outskirts of the pitch to give his side belief.
However, just as Ireland looked to be building a come-back, the Italians struck another blow, this time through Giovanni Benvenuti who went over after some soft defensive work from the Irish contingent. Padovani missed the conversion but Scannell struck successfully moments later to land a penalty in the 34th minute. Another penalty then went the way of the Italians, but thankfully, for Ireland, Padovani’s attempt drifted shy of the posts, taking sides into the locker room on a 20-10 score sheet at the interval.
Come the second-half, Ireland pushed for an attacking style of play and were rewarded on the 59th minute as replacement Jerry Sexton, brother of Jonathan, took advantage of an excellent driving maul generated off a solid line-out. Unfortunately for Scannell, a conversion from a difficult angle proved too far and he subsequently missed another penalty from long range come the 64th minute.
The Irish soon grew into their own and began to build phases in the Italian 22. Forward and back inter-play brought possession from right to left, earning the side a penalty. Scannell sliced the posts assertively as the tables began to turn in favour of the men in green. Their third try coming in the form of a Crosbie / Scholes spectacle. Crosbie hung a precise cross-field kick over to the left corner for Scholes to collect acrobatically and touch down in style. Scannell then made a scintillating conversion to level the game at 25 – 25 with five minutes left for either nation to stake a claim.
The final minutes witnessed a flurry of attempts from Ireland to grasp their first away win of the Championship. Second-row and back-row forwards charged up on a number of occasions, with Crosbie striking a drop-goal attempt from a difficult position to no avail. Time quickly ran out for the visitors and the game ended in a draw.
ITALY U20: Angelo Esposito, David Odiete, Michele Campagnaro, Andrea Bettin, Filippo Guarducci, Edoardo Padovani, Marcello Violi, Luca Scarsini, Alain Moriconi, Tiziano Pasquali, Alessio Zdrilich, Michele Andreotti, Andrea Trotta, Vittorio Marazzi, Maxime Mbanda. Replacements: Luca Conti, Cherif Traore, Rudy Biancotti, Giacomo Riedo, Gianmarco Vian, Simone Marinaro, Filippo Buscema, Giovanni Benvenuti.
IRELAND U20: Darragh Leader, Darren Sweetnam, Tom Daly, Rory Scannell, Rory Scholes, Steve Crosbie, Luke McGrath, Peter Dooley, John Andrew, Ryan Furniss, Sean McCarthy, John Donnan, Conor Joyce, Josh van der Flier, Ryan Murphy. Replacements: Bryan Byrne, Adam Boland, Brian Scott, Jerry Sexton, Peadar Timmins, Dave Shanahan, Eoghan Quinn, David Panter.
For Ruddock’s men, the first-half proved a difficult one with the Italians using brute strength to over-power their Irish counterparts.. The Irish struggled to react to Italy’s attack effectively, and handling errors and poor decision making in the early stages resulted in constant pressure from the hosts.
However, the team showed character and determination to claw their way back into the game, reminiscent of their come-back against the English a few weeks previous.
In terms of the Ulster men, Scholes stood out as a future prospect through his weaving runs and a well-taken try which showed his composure and skill under the high ball. John Andrew played his part in the scrum and carried effectively but was involved in the defensive confusion which lead to Italy’s third try. John Donnan and Conor Joyce were imposing at the break down and featured consistently and successfully in the line out.
Overall, Ireland’s performance in this year’s Under 20 Six Nations Championship should be commended. As a collective unit they have performed well and consistently, overcoming the two powerhouses of England and France. Looking ahead to the Junior World Cup, they will have to address issues at the scrum but if they build upon their positives from their Six Nations campaign then they may have a chance in what looks like a difficult group for the young men.