The Ireland Under-20 team showed great grit and skill to defeat Australia 19-15 in Stade de la Rabine, Vannes on Wednesday to get their Championship campaign off to a bright start…
Lansdowne centre Tom Daly fired over four penalties and converted Rory Scholes’ first half try to help Mike Ruddock’s youngsters make a winning start in the north west of France.
Daly, a key figure in the side’s Six Nations wins over England and France earlier in the season, showed nerves of steel again as his 74th minute penalty proved to be the winner with Australian lock Senio Toleafoa being sin-binned late on for a blatant stamp.
The Junior Wallabies scored a try in each half through lock Tom Staniforth and winger Alex Northam, but Ireland’s superior skills, infectiously high work-rate and tactical nous saw them run out deserving winners.
Twelve months ago, Luke McGrath came on as a replacement in the Under-20s’ historic 23-19 defeat of tournament hosts South Africa. Roll on a year and the Leinster scrum half had the captaincy role as Ireland produced a memorable win over Australia.
McGrath and flanker Josh van der Flier are the only players in Ireland’s 2013 Junior World Championship squad with experience of last year’s event, and the current crop showed bags of spirit and composure as they staved off a late rally from the Australians.
With New Zealand and Fiji also in the pool, Ireland head coach Ruddock and his Australian counterpart Adrian Thompson knew the importance of getting a positive result on the opening night.
Both sides found gaps in midfield early on, with Daly striding through for Ireland and the move ended with Adam Byrne, one of the players not involved in the Six Nations, almost linking up with supporting lock Peadar Timmins for a try.
Referee Luke Pearce was playing a penalty advantage and Daly comfortably landed the right-sided kick to give Ireland a seventh minute lead.
Reset scrums and knock ons sapped any momentum from the opening quarter, although the industrious Irish pack more than held its own against the heavier Australian forwards.
Australia failed to profit from a smart break on the right, spearheaded by goal-kicking centre Ulupano Seuteni, Ireland’s pressure and physicality in defence forcing the turnover.
Prop Adam Boland, making his first start for the Under-20s, was enjoyed a terrific battle with Australian loosehead Silatolu Latu and he won a scrum decision which launched Ireland forward.
McGrath gave Ryan Murphy the chance to gain good yardage in the Australian 22, but Daly’s subsequent penalty attempt went narrowly wide.
Ireland pressed again soon after with Scholes wriggling free of a tackle in midfield and passing wide to the right for fellow winger Byrne to have a cut. However, Scholes’ pass was ruled forward.
The breakthrough came in the 24th minute as carries from front rowers George McGuigan and Boland got Ireland into a threatening position in the 22, and Steve Crosbie fed Scholes who handed off Lalakai Foketi to score in the right corner.
After Daly supplied a superb conversion from the touchline, Australia lifted the tempo with a fine poach from their captain Curtis Browning and a busy set of phases from the forwards.
They deservedly got off the mark on the half hour thanks to a penalty from Seuteni and continued to make headway leading up to the break.
Ireland let their discipline slip, lively flanker Conor Joyce leaking a close-in penalty and they also lost influential number 8 Murphy to concussion. The resulting lineout maul saw Staniforth crash over in the left corner to bring it back to 10-8.
Seuteni pulled his conversion attempt away to the left, and the Australian kicker was also wayward with a penalty early on the resumption after Boland played the ball off his feet.
Captain McGrath was setting the standard in terms of work ethic and when he was pulled into a ruck outside the Australian 22, Daly stepped up to convert the resulting penalty for 13-8.
The Lansdowne clubman drilled a penalty wide from a difficult angle as Ireland pressed for further scores, replacement Daniel Leavy doing well in the build-up to seize turnover ball.
Leavy was then back in the thick of it to win another breakdown decision – this time deep in defence – just as Australia built some momentum in the Irish 22.
Ireland were playing to a better structure and were battled hardened from that run of games in the spring. In the closing stages it was also evident that they had learned some valuable lessons from their narrow defeats to Wales and Scotland.
As well as a very reliable scrum, second rows John Donnan and Timmins were coming more into it in terms of the lineout and van der Flier was especially dogged in defence. A 14-metre penalty from Daly handed the Irish an eight-point buffer with just 13 minutes left on the clock.
It was up to Australia to answer back and unfortunately Ireland coughed up a soft try. Adam Byrne broke forward with purpose only for Ireland to lose control of possession and the pacy Northam grasped his opportunity to counter from deep, evading a series of tackles as he charged over from 70 metres out.
Replacement Luke Burton clipped over the conversion from straight in front of the posts, making it a one-point game (16-15) with Australia’s beefy reserves beginning to make an impact.
Ireland held their ground though and some clever interplay from McGrath and the forwards yielded a penalty on the Australian 10-metre line which Daly did brilliantly to tuck away between the posts.
It gave Ireland just enough breathing space to seal the deal, although there were a few nervy moments when the Australians set up a close-in lineout maul similar to the one Staniforth scored from in the first half.
Nonetheless, at the side of the maul, the assistant referee spotted Toleafoa’s stamp on a prone Edward Byrne who has come on from the bench only a few minutes earlier.
Ireland’s well-drilled scrum and a final lineout maul earned them the territory and possession to see out a famous result which they will hope to build on against Fiji next Sunday night.
15: Rory Scannell (Dolphin/Munster)
14: Adam Byrne (UCD/Leinster)
13: Thomas Farrell (Lansdowne/Leinster)
12: Thomas Daly (Lansdowne/Leinster)
11: Rory Scholes (Belfast Harlequins /Ulster)
10: Steve Crosbie (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
9: Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster) CAPTAIN
1: Peter Dooley (Lansdowne/Leinster)
2: George McGuigan (Newcastle Falcons/Exile)
3: Adam Boland (Lansdowne/Connacht)
4: Peadar Timmins (UCD/Leinster)
5: John Donnan (Ballynahinch/Ulster)
6: Conor Joyce (Malone/Ulster)
7: Josh Van Der Flier (UCD/Leinster)
8: Ryan Murphy (Dolphin/Munster)
16: Bryan Byrne (UCD/Leinster)
17: Edward Byrne (UCD /Leinster)
18: Ryan Furniss (Worcester/Exile)
19: Sean McCarthy (Shannon/Munster)
20: Daniel Leavy (UCD /Leinster)
21: David Shanahan (Clontarf/Leinster)
22: Mark Roche (Lansdowne/Connacht)
23: Darragh Leader (Galwegians/Connacht)