Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
# Never Say Die
Immense Ireland U20 comeback effort falls just short against England
New Zealand await Ireland after a last-gasp try swung the match England’s way.

Ireland 23

England 30

JUST WHEN YOU might think it’s time to count this Ireland U20 side out, they find a way to come roaring back.

Ultimately, England had too much for Noel McNamara’s incredibly gutsy group in today’s World Rugby U20 Championship fifth-place semi-final, but not before they had been given a plethora of problems to solve.

Ireland players dejected after the game Pablo Gasparini / INPHO Pablo Gasparini / INPHO / INPHO

9-23 down against a nation who have made a habit of appearing in the final of this tournament and with just 12 minutes to play,  Ireland would have been forgiven for beginning to look ahead to a Saturday encounter with New Zealand.

Instead, they persisted with a long period of scrum pressure until it turned into points through a Jonathan Wren try.

With no little help from the brilliant boot of Ben Healy, the 14-point deficit was erased a minute later through a try from Brian Deeny, who galloped away after a midfield chargedown.

Craig Casey is consoled by his father after the game Pablo Gasparini / INPHO Craig Casey meets his father post-match. Pablo Gasparini / INPHO / INPHO

In a match punctuated by somewhat lenient yellow cards for high tackles, England entered the closing stages with 14 men, but gritted their teeth during a third sin-bin period of the day to force an 80th minute try for Tom Willis and avoid bringing the battle into extra-time.

England’s prize is a place in Saturday’s fifth-place playoff against Wales, who delivered the shock of the day today by beating New Zealand in a rain-delayed encounter.

That same weather didn’t so much delay the latest instalment of Ireland v England as completely restrict the scope of the approach from both sides.

Ben Healy on the attack Pablo Gasparini / INPHO Ben Healy runs at England in Rosario. Pablo Gasparini / INPHO / INPHO

Ireland, nothing if not incredibly flexible, reacted quickest to the conditions with Healy to the fore as he pulled the strings with aplomb behind his hard-working pack.

The Garryowen man showed off a wide repertoire of kicking, not content to just use the distance off his right, but also switching to clean strikes off his left and clever dinks into space.

The plan from Ireland was clear, to keep the screw turning, drawing errors from England while building possession to 70% during the opening 40 minutes. 

Unfortunately, that statistical dominance didn’t reflect on the scoreboard at the interval and, ironically, Healy missed his very first attempt from the tee in this tournament after putting Ireland in a 6-3 lead after 28 minutes.

Considering the weight of Ireland’s injury toll, it felt as though they would have to be perfect to beat England for the third time this year. A series of errors turned the tie England’s way. Healy’s rare miss was followed by a drop in midfield as he attempted to take in a high ball growing slicker by the minute in sopping wet weather. Craig Casey conceded a penalty from the resulting scrum and Josh Hodge kicked his side level.

Minutes later, they stormed seven clear, scoring off an excellent back-line move despite being down to 14 men with prop Kai Owen in the bin for a high hit on Michael Milne.

Hodge put the icing on the move, cutting inside to score after being put away by Tom De Glanville.

Liam Turner under pressure Pablo Gasparini / INPHO Liam Turner tries to make a break from the mud. Pablo Gasparini / INPHO / INPHO

6-13 to England at the interval, the sides swapped penalties in the early minutes of the second period. But with replacements rolling in, an already scrappy match was losing shape and Ireland struggled to turn chasers in the game. After a loose Casey pass gave England a platform to attack from five metres, Exeter 9 Sam Maunder darted his way to a score that looked certain to settle the contest.

And yet, nothing is settled where this Irish side is concerned. In Cork on Six Nations opening night they twice battled back from 11 down against this opponent and today they set about reeling England in while Dylan Tierney Martin was in the sin-bin.

After a series of line-outs won and lost, scrums set and re-set the Connacht hooker was back on the field to help his side rise from the unplayable muck and use the superb Casey and Healy to set up Wren for a try in the corner.

With 10 minutes on the clock, there was clear reason to worry for England and Maunder succumbed to the stress as Deeny, a lock deployed at number 8 today, charged down his kick and pumped his legs for a 40-metre sprint to the try-line.

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The comeback was complete, but McNamara’s men fell agonisingly short of finishing England off, losing a crucial set of kick tennis and coughing up the resulting line-out to invite England to mount one last attack.

A gut-wrenching loss, but another performance that leaves Irish rugby with plenty of positives shining through the mud. This much-depleted, but never-say-die squad will hose themselves down and look ahead to closing out a tough tournament run against New Zealand in the 7th/8th place place-off (kick-off 19.30, Saturday, eir Sport).



Tries: J Wren, B Deeny

Conversions: B Healy (2/2)

Penalties: B Healy (3/4)


Tries: J Hodge, S Maunder, T Willis

Conversions: J Hodge (3/3)

Penalties: J Hodge (3/3)

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