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Dublin: 7 °C Saturday 22 February, 2020

'It's about finding a way. They found a way': U20 pack show their teeth to beat England

Noel McNamara’s pack worked brilliantly to lay a platform for the win over England.

Number 8 John Hodnett makes a first-half break.
Number 8 John Hodnett makes a first-half break.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

FRIDAY NIGHT’S EXHILARATING U20 shoot-out between Ireland and England was crammed full of crucial little moments that tilted the tie, eventually, the way of the hosts.

But none felt bigger than the 65th minute English scrum which followed a yellow card for prop Michael Milne.

The green pack was down to seven with the try-line was just behind them. And just behind that, the scoreboard read 28-27. Corkman Josh Wycherley was re-called from the sideline. The vaunted English pack looked set to turn the screw.

“They dug in and, generally speaking, that’s what they do,” said head coach Noel McNamara post-match. The Clare man was thrilled to see the experience his side gathered in tough training test runs was put to good use.

“We had a good run out against Cork Con and that was positive in terms of preparing us – we faced some tough scrums in that session as well.

“Moments like that, it’s about finding a way. They found a way.”

A free kick award for early engagement carries a touch of luck, but also shows a streak of mental steel. They waited while England over eagerly trundled forward.

That win was indicative of the pack’s wider performance on the night. At U20 level, England’s vast player pool continually leads them to bigger, more powerful forwards. But Ireland remained confident and trusting in the work McNamara and Ambrose Conboy had laid out for them. Charlie Ryan and Niall Murray led an excellent line-out and maul effort. Dylan Tierney-Martin was a force to be reckoned with at the breakdown, John Hodnett was a wrecking ball with ball in hand and Scott Penny’s footwork continually took him around corners.

Liam Turner, Sean French and John Hodnett celebrate Cormac Foley's try Ireland celebrate the game-settling score from Cormac Foley. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“You have to give credit to the forwards and the job Amby did with them. When you look at the profile of their pack and the experience they have, the games they’ve played it was always going to be (an important) area.

“You can’t shy away from it, you’ve got to play with pace, but you’ve still got to go after it and I thought the forwards did superbly in that aspect.

“We took them on at source, got a good platform from scrum, got pressured a bit at times, but to get a maul try as well… we got in the scoring zone a couple of times and managed to pick and go to get over.

“Those kind of things are significant psychologically as well. I think it bled a bit of confidence from England.

“We did move them around as well, so I think there was a good balance in the game.”

Balance indeed. The pack effort provided the platform for Ireland to go toe-to-toe with England and come out with a thrilling 35-27 victory.

“I’m sure it was very exciting for spectators, obviously there were parts of it we could have been a bit better on, but we’re really pleased with the result, coming away with five points.”

No spectator left Musgrave unhappy with the entertainment value on show in the Friday night spectacular. From the off, the ground hummed with excitement at the prospect of the big game ahead. There was almost tangible connection between players and the 5,764 watching on, both groups eager to make the venue a fortress for the cream of Ireland’s age grade talent.

“The crowd were tremendous. From the get-go, they’ve been so welcoming, they really have taken to this team. It made it an extra bit special. The boys would certainly say that kind of vocal support, it added something to it.

“Hopefully for the French game we’ll have a similar if not a bigger crowd.”

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Sean Farrell

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