Megan Joyce in France.
Ireland Under-20 sailed to a 46-3 bonus point victory against a robust Fijian outfit in the second round of the IRB Junior World Championship on Sunday evening in Vannes.
Ulster’s talisman Rory Scholes crossed the white wash for two touchdowns with Malone’s Chris Taylor barging over to combine with Darren Sweetnam’s double and Daniel Leavy’s sliding effort in a six-try extravaganza. Imposing centre Thomas Daly added to the tally with conversion and penalty attempts, despite fracturing his hand within the first ten minutes.
The first quarter saw a flurry of Fijian counter-attacks, led through the Islander’s pack who set the platform for quick ball out-wide to agile speedsters. Emori Waqa had Fiji’s first scoring opportunity but sent his penalty attempt shy of the posts. Daly then stepped up for the Irish to nail a penalty awarded in the scrum as the score-board got underway.
Ireland’s first try came as a result of steely momentum deep in the Fijian half. Daly broke the line to link with Steve Crosbie who whipped ball from left to right and into the hands of ex-Cork hurler Darren Sweetnam for the score, Daly narrowly missing the conversion.
Fiji kept the Irish in their sights with an impressive penalty strike from Emori Waqa, with Daly later matching the Fiji scrum-half with a boot of his own for a three-pointer. The Fijian’s over-exuberant defensive efforts were then penalised as Daly stepped up for a penalty conversion to settle the half-time score at 14-3.
The second-half witnessed a disciplined display from Mike Ruddock’s young charges. Electric scrum-half David Shanahan came within inches of the line following some strong forward momentum from the pack. Ulster’s Taylor soon took control and crashed his way over to seal the try after the scrum proved dominant, with Daly adding the extras.
Belfast Harlequin’s red-headed maestro then produced an individual score nothing short of brilliant. Scholes took the ball within the Irish half to evade several defenders before chipping over the top to collect over the head of two Fijians and touchdown for the bonus point.
Scholes then went in for his second after quality back-line inter-changes between Luke McGrath, Daly and Crosbie allowed the pace man to force his way over, with Daly unsuccessful from the tee.
Substitute Rory Scannell sent a lofting kick into the stands to find touch as the forwards built the phases with twin brothers Edward and Bryan Byrne shining in the front-row and carrying effectively. Centre Mark Roche saw space out-wide via Sweetnam who put busy Leavy in at the corner, as Scannell took over with the boot and sent his conversion wide of the posts.
The Munster man then dissected the sticks after the Irish were awarded a penalty to keep the score-board ticking towards a substantial score of 39-3. However, the Wolfhound puppies still had fire left in the cannon.
Sweetnam sent the ball down the right-hand side touch-line to produce a fine finish by regathering and impressively staying in touch to seal his second and conclude the try count at six. Scannell then converted to end the game with the Fijians left wondering.
When quizzed on the physicality of the Fijian squad, Captain Conor Joyce said: “It was a tough battle all round today but we wore them down as time went on, by sticking to our game plan we eventually racked up the tries.”
Speaking afterwards, Rory Scholes took a modest approach when asked about his familiarity with the try-line: “It was pretty good to score twice but yet again the team performed really well and I was just on the end of a couple of scores.” “I just try and give it a crack when I’m lucky enough to have ball in hand.”
He also spoke of the team’s schedule outside of training and match day preparations, he said: “We’ve been taking part in Legacy events with the locals after matches, whilst also going bowling and to the beach on our days off. It’s great for team bonding ahead of big games.”
Ireland U20s: Darragh Leader (Galwegians/Connacht); Darren Sweetnam (UCC/Munster), Mark Roche (Lansdowne/Connacht), Tom Daly (Lansdowne/Leinster), Rory Scholes (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster); Steve Crosbie (Old Belvedere/Leinster), David Shanahan (Clontarf/Leinster); Edward Byrne (UCD/Leinster), Bryan Byrne (UCD/Leinster), Christopher Taylor (Malone/Ulster), Gavin Thornbury (UCD/Leinster), Sean McCarthy (Shannon/Munster), Conor Joyce (Malone/Ulster) (capt), Daniel Leavy (UCD/Leinster), Jack O’Donoghue (UL Bohemians/Munster).
Replacements used: Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster) for Shanahan (53 mins), Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster) for Joyce (60), Rory Scannell (Dolphin/Munster) for Daly (61), Ryan Furniss (Worcester Warriors/Exile) for Taylor, John Donnan (Ballynahinch/Ulster) for McCarthy, David Panter (Corinthians/Connacht) for Scholes (all 66), Peter Dooley (Lansdowne/Leinster) for E Byrne, George McGuigan (Newcastle Falcons/Exiles) for B Byrne (both 68), McCarthy for Thornbury (73).
The team are now two wins from two as the ultimate crunch with the Baby Blacks on Thursday is set to determine the squad’s Championship fate.
Watching New Zealand narrowly defeat the Wallabies yesterday evening, the All Blacks do look beatable if the Irish can maintain composure and forget their opponent’s status and reputation. The tournament heavy-weights were, at times, loose in possession.
Scholes is quickly becoming the star of this year’s young Ireland as he amounts three tries in the Championship. Ulster will be licking their lips at his return.
Overall, it was a professional performance from the juniors who are improving with every game. Hopefully they will reach their optimum come the Kiwi showdown. They certainly possess the strength and depth of talent to defy the odds.