Ireland U20’s powered to a bonus point win against England U20 in a highly entertaining game at Irish Independent Park, Cork last night in front of a crowd of 5,764.

I must admit, my appetite for a nine hour round trip lessened considerably when the teams were announced. Only one Ulster based player in the squad, Banbridge’s David McCann as back row replacement, and with ice and snow forecast for most of the trip back I decided to give this one a miss.

On top of this, Ireland U20 coach Noel McNamara had struggled to focus his players last season as they consistently shipped tries the Six Nations which was followed by a disastrous U20 World Championship in France.

Expectations were not high. It was a powerful looking England side and  my expectations were if Ireland kept the defeat to less than 20 points it would be a result!

It looked as though it was going to pan out that way in the early exchanges as England romped to a 3 – 14 lead in the first quarter with Cadan Murley and Tom Willis both crossing for England for tries, converted by Marcus Smith, in reply to an early penalty from Ireland’s Harry Byrne.

Ireland hit back on the 30th minute after a period of sustained pressure close to the England line. after a midfield break by Byrne. Hooker Dylan Tierney-Martin burrowed under the visitor’s defence, between the posts, for Byrne to convert.

England responded immediately with their fullback Josh Hodge collecting an uncontested Irish clearance kick to race to the line unopposed. Smith converted to give England a 10 – 21 lead.

It was all too easy for England, who appeared to be scoring at will, but as they relaxed Ireland took over.

Byrne reduced the arrears with a penalty before a break by Liam Turner put Ireland back in the English 22. The pack had a couple of dabs at the line but Scott Penny went for the base of the uprights to claim Ireland’s second try and with Byrne converting it was a one point game as half time approached.

England pulled three back through the boot of Smith to take the score to 20 – 24 as the teams turned round.

Ireland came racing out of the blocks at the start of the second half and it was the forwards once again doing the damage as Tierney-Martin crossed for his second, off the back of a maul, to put Ireland in front by a point. The lead switched back and forward as Tom Hardwick and Harry Byrne swapped penalties as the tension ramped up.

However, Ireland had worked hard for all their scores, whereas England had been gifted theirs and when it came down to the final quarter battle it was the hosts who were in better shape.

England looked to their pack to dominate up front but they threw away a game winning chance with an early push in a scrum meters from the Ireland line. It was a huge let off for Ireland who had just lost replacement Michael Milne to a yellow card for collapsing the preceding scrums.

The hosts comfortably saw out the rest of the player deficit and as the clock ticked down towards full time they managed to find the bonus point try as replacement scrum half Cormac Foley sneaked over off the back of a scrum to seal the game. Byrne converted to deny England the losing bonus and give a final score of Ireland 35 England 27. Amazing!

Ulster’s sole representative, David McCann got on for five minutes at the end. After this thrilling win it would be churlish to complain about selection. Well done to coach coach Noel McNamara who had a difficult season last year, if this is a taste of things to come it should be an exciting campaign.

Ireland U20 England U20
Jake Flannery 15 Josh Hodge
Conor Philips 14
Ollie Sleightholme
Liam Turner 13 Fraser Dingwall
David Hawkshaw 12 Tom Hardwick
Jonathan Wren 11 Cadan Murley
Harry Byrne 10 Marcus Smith
Craig Casey 9 Sam Maunder
Josh Wycherley 1 Olly Adkins
Dylan Tierney-Martin 2 Nic Dolly
Tom Clarkson 3 Marcus Street
Charlie Ryan 4 Joel Kpoku
Niall Murray 5 Alex Coles
Martin Moloney 6 Ted Hill
Scott Penny 7 Aaron Hinkley
John Hodnett 8 Tom Willis
John McKee 16 Ben Atkins
Michael Milne 17 Bevan Rodd
Ryan Lomas 18 Joe Heyes
Brian Deeney 19 James Scott
David McCann 20 Rusi Tuima
Cormac Foley 21 Ollie Fox
Sean French 22
Cameron Redpath
Rob Russell 23 Ollie Lawrence