Entertaining victory for Ireland Under-20s against Italy

IRELAND UNDER-20s 38 ITALY UNDER-20s 34

Man-of-the-match James McCarthy's first half brace of tries sent the Ireland Under-20s on their way to an entertaining 38-34 victory over 14-man Italy at Donnybrook tonight, writes Dave Mervyn.

Noel McNamara's youngsters registered their opening U-20 Six Nations success, picking up a bonus point courtesy of six tries, but Italy made them fight all the way despite losing flanker Jacopo Bianchi to a ninth-minute red card.

Bianchi's reckless tip tackle on Jack Dunne saw him dismissed by Welsh referee Dan Jones, with Tommaso Coppo's initial intercept try quickly cancelled out by scores from winger McCarthy (2), Hugh O'Sullivan, Cormac Daly and Peter Sullivan.

Niccolò Cannone responded to reduce the arrears to 31-15 by half-time, but with talismanic Ireland captain Tommy O'Brien, McCarthy and scrum half O'Sullivan continuing to fizz with intent, a 43rd-minute try from prop Jack Aungier appeared to put the game out of Italy's reach.

However, a combination of Ireland switching off and the Italians raising their efforts saw them rattle off tries from Damiano Mazza, Antonio Rizzi and Edoardo Iachizzi - the latter coming in the final minute - to earn two bonus points in a breathless finish.

James McCarthy scores his side's first try. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

These nations’ respective Under-20s teams have made a habit of close scorelines in recent seasons, a try double from senior new cap Jordan Larmour seeing Ireland win by a single point in last year’s U-20 Six Nations, while Italy returned the favour with a 22-21 pool victory at the World Rugby U-20 Championship in Georgia.

Only 72 seconds had elapsed when out-half Harry Byrne forced a pass on the Irish 10-metre line and Coppo, standing flat, intercepted it to race clear and put five points on the board for the Azzurrini.

However, Ireland were level by the five-minute mark, O’Brien using scrum possession to draw in the defence and put Peter Sullivan tearing through a gap. He fed fellow winger McCarthy, who had touched down against France last week, to finish off in the left corner.

Byrne’s well-struck conversion attempt came off the near post, before Bianchi’s flipping of Dunne was reviewed via TMO and referee Jones produced his red card, turning the match very much in Ireland’s favour.

McNamara’s side built momentum from their reliable lineout, late inclusion Eoghan Clarke, who came in at hooker for an ill Ronan Kelleher, being central to a muscular maul that gained 15 metres. Possession was retained and after lock Daly was stopped short, scrum half O’Sullivan sniped over from the ruck for a 14th-minute try.

Ireland had the bonus point tucked away by the 24th minute, Daly reaching over from close range after a flicked O’Brien pass in midfield and some purposeful play from McCarthy as he recovered his own deflected kick. The latter put his name to the fourth try, athletically leaping to gather a favourable bounce of his own chip through.

Byrne landed both conversions to carve open a 26-8 advantage, with his opposite number Antonio Rizzi sandwiching in a penalty goal. Ireland’s attack gave Italy a huge workload in defence, with full-back Michael Silvester offering an increasing threat and O’Brien going very close to his side’s fifth try.

That score came just a couple of minutes later, a close-in scrum providing the platform for O’Sullivan to break to the right corner and he connected with Lansdowne winger Sullivan who finished smartly past Coppo.

Italian second row Cannone hit back before the break, cutting Ireland’s lead to 31-15 after a late spell of pressure near the home line, but tighthead Aungier piled over in powerful fashion - following an initial run by Silvester and a Byrne half-back - to keep his side on the track.

With Byrne converting, it was an ideal start to the second period. 23 points was now the margin and the Irish backs were still full of running. Munster Academy member McCarthy was almost away for his third try but he failed to hold onto Byrne’s bouncing cross-field kick on halfway.

Frustratingly for the Irish coaching staff and the home support, it was Italy who took up the running for the remaining half-an-hour as Ireland allowed their intensity drop and they leaked three without reply.

A reinforced defence will be required for the visit of Wales in two weeks’ time as the Italians, despite their numerical advantage, found it too easy to score when within striking range.

Playing to their strengths with senior coach Conor O’Shea watching on from the stand, the visitors mauled right up to the whitewash before centre Mazza produced a muscular finish past Sullivan in the left corner.

That unconverted third try was followed by a full seven-pointer for the bonus point, early in the final quarter. Niccolò Casilio kicked off the try of the night from a 63rd-minute scrum, breaking on the short side and brilliant hands in midfield released out-half Rizzi to score out wide on the left. The scorer also added a textbook conversion.

Suddenly, amid a barnstorming fight-back from their opponents, Ireland were breathing heavier with the scoreboard showing 38-27. They thought they had the clinching try within their grasp with a quarter of an hour remaining, yet a slight foot in touch from Silvester denied O’Brien a try at the end of a free-flowing attack along the left wing.

Ireland had all eight replacements on the pitch for the closing stages, with UCD’s Ronan Foley and Patrick Patterson and Charlie Ryan joining Wanderers clubman Clarke and Ballymena flanker Matthew Agnew as the five debutants on the night.

The game’s 11th and final try fell to Italian replacement Iachizzi, who burrowed over from a ruck close to the whitewash, and although Rizzi successfully converted to make it a four-point game, a final penalty, won in the Italian half, made certain of a victory that was much more hard-fought than it should have been.

Ireland U-20s scorers:

Tries: James McCarthy 2, Hugh O’Sullivan, Cormac Daly, Peter Sullivan, Jack Aungier;

Cons: Harry Byrne 4

Italy U-20s scorers:

Try: Tommaso Coppo, Niccolò Cannone, Damiano Mazza, Antonio Rizzi, Try;

Cons: Antonio Rizzi 3;

Pen: Antonio Rizzi

HT: Ireland U-20s 31; Italy U-20s 15

IRELAND U-20: Michael Silvester (Dublin University/Leinster); Peter Sullivan (Lansdowne/Leinster), Tommy O'Brien (UCD/Leinster) (capt), Angus Curtis (Queen's University/Ulster), James McCarthy (UL Bohemians/Munster); Harry Byrne (UCD/Leinster), Hugh O'Sullivan (Clontarf/Leinster); Jordan Duggan (Naas/Leinster), Eoghan Clarke (Wanderers/Leinster), Jack Aungier (St. Mary's College/Leinster), Cormac Daly (Clontarf/Leinster), Jack Dunne (Dublin University/Leinster), Sean Masterson (Corinthians/Connacht), Matthew Agnew (Ballymena/Ulster), Jack O'Sullivan (UCC/Munster).

Replacements: Diarmuid Barron (Garryowen/Munster), James French (UCC/Munster), Tom O'Toole (Banbridge/Ulster), Charlie Ryan (UCD/Leinster), Ronan Foley (UCD/Leinster), Patrick Patterson (UCD/Leinster), Conor Dean (St. Mary's College/Leinster), Angus Kernohan (Ballymena/Ulster).

ITALY U-20: Alberto Rossi (Valsugana Padova); Simone Cornelli (Toscana Aeroporti I Medicei), Michelangelo Biondelli (Rugby Viadana 1970), Damiano Mazza (Accademia Nazionale Ivan Francescato), Tommaso Coppo (Petrarca Padova); Antonio Rizzi (Petrarca Padova), Niccolò Casilio (Patarò Calvisano); Danilo Fischetti (Patarò Calvisano), Matteo Luccardi (Patarò Calvisano), Michele Mancini PARRI (Accademia Nazionale Ivan Francescato), Niccolò Cannone (Petrarca Padova), Matteo Canali (Rugby Colorno), Michele Lamaro (Petrarca Padova) (capt), Jacopo Bianchi (Fiamme Oro Rugby), Lodovico Manni (Mogliano Rugby).

Replacements: Niccolò Taddia (Accademia Nazionale Ivan Francescato), Leonardo Mariottini (Accademia Nazionale Ivan Francescato), Guido Romano (Rugby Colorno), Edoardo Iachizzi (USA Perpignan), Enrico Ghigo (Accademia Nazionale Ivan Francescato), Leonardo Bacchi (Rugby Viadana 1970), Filippo di Marco (Accademia Nazionale Ivan Francescato), Alessandro Fusco (Accademia Nazionale Ivan Francescato).

Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)

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