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Ireland's U20 World Championship semi-final hopes hang by a thread

Noel McNamara was ‘proud’ of his team’s effort against Australia, but defeat leaves them with a lot of work to do.

NOEL MCNAMARA PRAISED his team’s valiant efforts against Australia as 14-man Ireland battled on following the first-half dismissal of Ryan Baird, but ultimately defeat leaves their U20 World Championship hopes hanging by a thread.

Ireland showed huge character and spirit in the face of adversity in their second Pool B outing on Saturday, but having played an hour of the contest a man down, ran out of steam as Australia ran in three tries during a clinical four-minute spell. 

Noel McNamara speaks to his players after the game Ireland U20s suffered their first defeat of the year on Saturday. Source: Pablo Gasparini/INPHO

After the opening day win over England, the Grand Slam winners’ hopes of progressing through to the last four have taken a major hit ahead of Wednesday’s final pool outing against Italy in Santa Fe [KO 2.30pm, eir Sport].

“I think we have to be proud of the efforts of the boys, against a really quality opposition like Australia and under the circumstances that unfolded,” McNamara said.

“To perform the way they performed, the quality of effort was absolutely first-class and the character on display was absolutely first-class.”

Ireland rebounded from Baird’s first-half red card for a recklessly high tackle on Australia out-half Will Harrison to take a 17-10 lead into the second period, but the game ran away from them between the 63rd and 67th minute, when the Junior Wallabies scores three unanswered tries to book their place in the knockout stages.

It left McNamara’s side with nothing to show for their efforts, the lack of a losing bonus point crucial in their efforts to secure a place in the semi-final stage as the best runner-up. 

“It is fair to say there is frustration from us that the game ran away from us at the end and we didn’t get anything out of it, but I don’t think you can fault the players for the quality of effort and quality of endeavour,” the head coach added.

I think that one thing that you can also say is that it’s never one aspect that decides the outcome of the game, it’s never one incident, so obviously there are things that we’ll look at that maybe we could have managed better when we went down to 14 players and could we have navigated our way through the game a bit better?

With the three group winners progressing and the final semi-final berth going to the best runner-up, Ireland go into their final pool game against the Azzurri knowing a bonus-point win is required to stand any chance of advancing.

Ronan Watters leaves the field with an injury Watters will miss the game against Italy. Source: Pablo Gasparini/INPHO

Furthermore, they also need to hope neither New Zealand or South Africa collect a losing bonus point in their Pool C clash in Rosario, with both of those sides on 10 points ahead of their winner-takes-all meeting. 

Ireland — currently second in Pool B on five points — will also be keeping a close eye on proceedings in Pool A, where leaders France [10] face hosts Argentina [6] in round three with the winner of that tie set to advance.

McNamara confirmed Ireland will be without Ronan Watters for their clash against Italy after the back row suffered a concussion in the defeat to Australia and is now going through the return to play protocols. 

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Ryan Bailey

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