Ireland U20s 44

THE IRELAND U20s made a winning start to their 2023 Six Nations campaign with a stylish 17-point defeat of Wales at Colwyn Bay on Friday.

After a mixed first-half display, Ireland finished strongly and played some brilliant rugby in storming to a six-try bonus-point win.

Head coach Richie Murphy led the class of 2022 to Grand Slam success last year and the current crop will have ambitions of delivering more success given the quality of some of their attacking play on the opening night of the U20s Six Nations.

Ireland’s forwards enjoyed dominance throughout the contest – with powerful number eight Brian Gleeson heavily involved – while outhalf Sam Prendergast led the team well and fullback James Nicholson capped a busy outing with two tries.

Ireland found themselves under pressure in the early stages as an energetic Wales side started with a ferocious tempo to their play. 

However the visitors did well to keep the hosts out, winning an important turnover penalty under the posts before they had a chance to finally move the Welsh back into their own half.

Then with their first sniff of the Wales 22, Ireland struck – the 6’7″ frame of Conor O’Tighearnaigh muscling over after a brilliant break and pass inside from captain Gus McCarthy, a clinical move launched from an Ireland lineout.

Sam Prendergast – brother of senior Ireland international Cian – added the conversion and Ireland had stolen the initiative against the run of play.

It was a brilliant response after a slow start but Wales hit back with their next attack.

After some good work by out-half Dan Edwards, fullback Cam Winnett did well to create some space before finding Louie Hennessey, who was on hand out wide to finish as Ireland’s defence was caught a little stretched.

Edwards converted to pull the scores level, before the same player added a penalty which pushed Wales into the lead for the first time.

Having finally broken the Irish defence Wales continued to play with pace and added a wonderful second try after Ireland spilled a restart.

Attacking in numbers, Hennessy and Winnet produced two brilliant offloads out the back before Edwards spun the ball wide to centre Llien Morgan, who raced over in the corner. Edwards, who looked dangerous anytime he took possession, pulled his conversion just wide. 

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Wales looked to build on their lead but Ireland produced some important moments in defence – with centre Hugh Cooney nailing Edwards with a huge tackle which ended a sustained period of Welsh possession.

Ireland, who were finding ways of troubling the hosts through their power game, built on that moment by moving back into the Welsh half and a big push at the scrum allowed them go in search of a second try, with a powerful leg drive from Paddy McCarthy – brother of Leinster and Ireland lock Joe – allowing the tighthead to stretch over from close range.

A highly entertaining first-half came to a close with Wales leading by one, a margin Ireland will surely have been happier with given the amount of pressure they had been required to soak up.

After the restart, it was Ireland who made a fast-paced start, with a great break by Ulster flanker James McNabney bringing Richie Murphy’s side into the Wales 22, only for the ball to be spilled.

Ireland continued to enjoy most of the ball and 10 minutes into the second half, Cooney broke between two Wales defenders after the ball was recycled from a good position under the posts, the Clontarf player taking a heavy high blow from the Wales half-backs as he attempted to ground the ball.

After a lengthy TMO check, Wales outhalf Edwards was yellow-carded and a penalty was awarded. Ireland went through a short series of close-range carries but were held up over the line – a big win for the Wales defence.  

And the 14 men of Wales recovered from that early second-half blow with another brilliant team score. 

Ireland were again caught narrow in defence as the Welsh broke forward in numbers, Morgan producing another clever offload before Archie Hughes found hooker Sam Scarfe, who raced clear. With Edwards still in the sin-bin, Hughes was off-target from the tee.

Ireland were invited back into the game when Wales dropped the restart – a theme of the night – and a quick counter brought the visitors back into the 22, before Prendergast’s crossfield kick allowed fullback James Nicholson to cross.

A Prendergast penalty then pushed Ireland four clear before Ireland pieced together their best passage of attacking play of the night.

As Ireland looked to move the ball through the hands, Prendergast reacted well to keep a loose ball alive before quick hands by Brian Gleeson and O’Tighearnaigh moved it wide to Cooney, who broke at speed and found Nicholson hugging the sideline. The Leinster fullback then fed Munster’s Ruadhán Quinn, who had the power to bundle over for the bonus-point score despite being tackled just short of the tryline.

Prendergast missed the conversion but Ireland had their tails up. 

They added another scintillating score minutes later, this time Prendergast providing the quick feet and offload for Gleeson to send Nicholson over for his second. The out-half dragged the conversion wide again but with a 14-point lead heading into the final 10 minutes, Murphy’s side were well placed to see the game home.

The pace dipped momentarily but there was still time for a late flurry of scores.

With three minutes to play, winger Morgan pounced to bag Wales’ bonus point score – converted by Edwards.

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However it was Ireland who had the final say, substitute Henry McErlean scoring try number six with the clock in the red, Harry West’s conversion leaving Ireland 17 points clear.

The result means Ireland have now beaten Wales at U20 level in their last five meetings.

Elsewhere of Friday, England held on to beat Scotland 41-36 while Italy missed a late conversation with the clock in the red as they lost 28-27 to France.

Wales scorers:

Tries – Hennessy, Morgan (2), Scarfe

Penalty – Edwards [1/1]

Conversion –Edwards  [2/3], Hughes [0/1]

Ireland scorers:

Tries –  O’Tighearnaigh, McCarthy, Nicholson (2), Quinn, McErlean

Penalty – Prendergast [2/2]

Conversion – Prendergast [3/5], West [1/1].

WALES U20s: C Winnett (James 75); L Morgan, L Hennessey, H Ackerman, H Houston (Florence 68); D Edwards, A Hughes (Williams 69); D Kelleher-Griffiths, S Scarfe (Young 67), T Pritchard (Fackrell 54); L Edwards (Martin 60), J Green (Evans 29); R Woodman (captain), L Giannini, H Davies.

IRELAND U20s: J Nicholson; I Anagu (McErlean 46), H Cooney, J Devine, H Gavin; S Prendergast (West 75), F Gunne (Sheahan 75); G Hadden (Morris 62), G McCarthy (captain), P McCarthy (Barrett 71); D Mangan, C O’Tighearnaigh; J McNabney (Cawley 75), R Quinn (Sheahan 70), B Gleeson.

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