IRELAND U20s 30
SCOTLAND U20s 25
SCOTLAND Under-20s left Dublin with a bonus point and an enhanced reputation as a fast-improving side, but they might well have been travelling home with a victory too but for a first quarter in which they were some way off the pace. The fact that Stevie Scott’s side fought their way back into contention after going 13-0 down was a sign of their growing maturity and self-belief, but with greater application and awareness they would not have had that deficit to conquer in the first place.
Scott’s emotions at the end were therefore understandably mixed. The head coach felt justifiable pride in how much his squad have developed over the past five weeks, but was also disappointed that, after the heroics of their win over England a fortnight ago, they were unable to back that up with a win on the road.
“I’m really disappointed that we didn’t come away with a result – I think we deserved to win that game,” Scott said. “We got off to a poor start: I thought in the first 20 minutes we were slow out of the blocks.
“We built into the game after that and we had that belief at half-time that we could win the game. We won the second half 19-12, but unfortunately gave away a score in the last 10 minutes. In the first quarter we just coughed up the ball too much, but in that period in the second half we didn’t turn over the ball as much, which allowed us to put some pressure on them.”
Slow to show
Ireland took less three minutes to go ahead thanks to a try from No 8 Jack O’Sullivan after centre Angus Curtis had burst all too easily through the midfield defence. Harry Byrne added the conversion, then put his team into double figures three minutes later after Scotland were penalised for going offside. The visitors got into the game for a while after that early setback, but with 17 minutes played another Byrne penalty, again for offside, made it 13-0.
An intelligent break by winger Kyle Rowe midway through the first half was the first real attacking threat from Scotland, then a driving maul was halted illegally by Ireland on the edge of their 22, allowing Ross Thompson to open his team’s account.
Captain Robbie Smith came close to adding a try from a charge up the left, but he was held up before Ireland offended again and Thompson doubled his tally. Injured in the attack, Smith had to go off, and was replaced by Bradley Clements.
It had taken Scotland quarter of an hour to get that toehold in the game, but the good work was soon undone as Ireland scored their second try. Full-back Michael Silvester found too much space, and would have made it to the line himself but for a lack of speed and conviction. The touchdown was only delayed, however, as two phases later openside Matthew Agnew made the last couple of metres for an unconverted try.
An 18-6 deficit was by no means insurmountable for Scotland as they began the second half, and they enjoyed an early let-off when Byrne missed a straightforward chance to add another penalty. Rowe then got them right back in the match with a chip-and-chase try from deep, using his pace to get to the breakdown in time top seize a spilled ball and carry it over the line.
Thomson missed the conversion, and again Ireland hit back quickly, with lock Matt Dalton powering over the line for their third try, again unconverted, just two minutes later. Scotland were growing in confidence, though, and in turn they replied almost immediately when Martin Hughes finished off from close range. Thompson added the two points, and as the final quarter began Stevie Scott’s team were just five points behind.
The game stayed in the balance until, with six minutes to go, O’Sullivan burst through a tiring defence to grab his second try. Substitute Conor Dean converted, and Ireland had the bonus-point victory in the bag.
A positive end
There was still time for Scotland to get a bonus of their own for a narrow loss, and Nathan McBeth made sure of it in stoppage time, finishing off from close range after a penalty had been kicked to touch then driven from the lineout. Thompson’s conversion was the last kick of a game that might have ended far more positively for Scotland – had they not begun it so sluggishly.
Yet although this match did not end on a bright note, Scott’s squad have the ability to ensure that their Six Nations campaign does so when they meet their Italian counterparts on Friday in Bari. “I’m really pleased with the squad,” the coach added. “They’re just desperate to get better, and the more they can play games like this, the better they’re going to get. That will be good for the World Cup, that we’ll find out through the Six Nations who our best 28 players will be.”
Ireland U20s: M Silvester; A Kernohan, T O’Brien, A Curtis, M Keane; H Byrne, H O’Sullivan; J French, R Kelleher, T O’Toole, M Dalton, J Dunne, J Donleavy, M Agnew, J O’Sullivan. Substitutes: E Clarke, J Duggan, J Aungier, C Ryan, R Foley, J Stewart, C Dean, J Hume.
Scotland U20s: P Dewhirst; R McMichael, F Strachan, S McDowall, K Rowe; R Thompson, C Chapman; S Gunn, R Smith, F Richardson, E Johnson, J Hodgson, M Hughes, R Darge, D Onojaife. Substitutes: B Clements, N McBeth, M Walker, M Sykes, C Boyle, K Barreto, M New,. L Trotter.
Scorers: Ireland U20s: Tries: J O’Sullivan 2, Agnew, Dalton. Cons: Byrne, Dean. Pens: Byrne 2.
Scotland U20s: Tries: Rowe, Hughes, McBeth. Cons: Thompson 2. Pens: Thompson 2.
Scoring sequence: 5-0, 7-0, 10-0, 13-0, 13-3, 13-6, 18-6 half-time, 18-11, 23-11, 23-16, 23-18, 28-18, 30-18, 30-23, 30-25.
Referee: L Cayre (France).