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Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Ryan Hiscott/INPHO
# back to winning ways
Ireland U20s come out on top of seven-try thriller against Italy
Ireland had to come from behind to win in Cardiff.

Italy U20s 23 

Ireland U20s 30

IRELAND GOT BACK to winning ways in the U20 Six Nations Championship today, but they were made to work hard for their win against an exciting, impressive Italian side in Cardiff.

Richie Murphy’s side saw their Grand Slam hopes ended by England last time out, and the Ireland boss responded by making nine changes to his team for today’s round four clash.

Initially, that bold decision looked vindicated, as Ireland were up and running on the scoreboard within the opening five minutes, Alex Soroka collecting Eoin de Buitléar’s lineout, with the hooker joining the maul, taking possession and crashing over the line. Nathan Doak, lining up for his first conversion attempt of the afternoon, saw the ball fall off the tee before his rushed drop-kick attempt was blocked down.

Yet after their sloppy start to the game, Italy quickly summoned a response. James Humphreys saw an attempted chip over the top blocked down, with the subsequent bounce of the ball falling kindly for Simone Gesi, who showed superb pace and managed to hold off the challenge of Jamie Osborne to dot down in the left corner, although Leonardo Marin saw his conversion attempt pull wide.

Italy’s foothold in the game then grew as Ireland lost Jude Postlethwaite to a yellow card, the Ulster centre – who was making his first start for Ireland – sent to the bin for a high tackle. 

With their man advantage, Italy swooped for a second try, Ireland failing to hold out a strong Italian lineout maul with Tommaso Di Bartolomeo applying the finishing touch, although Marin again failed to add the extras. 

From the restart, Ireland won back possession deep in the Italy half and a series of quick pick and goes ended with George Saunderson showing good power to crash under the posts despite the best efforts of two Italian defenders, with Doak clipping over the conversion.

A breathless opening half continued with a fifth try before the 20 minute mark, Italy out-half Marin running a great line to break the Ireland defence for a superb solo effort, with his conversion from the left touchline splitting the posts.

ben-carson-is-tackled-by-filippo-drago-and-tommaso-menoncello Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Ireland's Ben Carson is tackled by Filippo Drago and Tommaso Menoncello. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

As Postlethwaite re-entered the action, Italy almost added a fourth try, with Humphreys again seeing his attempted chip through blocked down, only this time Gesi was brought to ground a few yards short of the line.

At this point Italy were well on top, enjoying nearly all the possession and mixing their approach up with impressive variety. Italy’s forwards looked dominant carrying into contact while they also made an effort to move the ball at speed and into the spaces out wide.

Ireland, struggling to match the intensity and with the errors beginning to pile up – missing 13 tackles in the opening 40 minutes – fell further behind as Marin clipped over two penalties, the second of which was a booming effort from 48 meters to close out the half as the Azzurrini went in with an eleven-point advantage.

Murphy responded by changing up his backline for the second period, Ulster wing Ben Moxham and Connacht’s Cathal Forde coming in for Conor Rankin and Humphreys.

And the Ireland boss would have been happy with his team’s initial response, Ireland looking much more assured in the early stages of the second half.

simone-gesi-makes-a-break-to-score-a-try Ryan Hiscott / INPHO Italy's Simone Gesi makes a break. Ryan Hiscott / INPHO / INPHO

Within five minutes of the restart they had pulled it back to a four-point game, Kendallen scoring a try which he played a key role in creating, his strong carry and offload allowing Forde exploit a gap in the Italy defence, before the Ireland captain rejoined the action to finish the move. Doak converted and Ireland were right back in the contest.

Now under a period of sustained pressure, Italy’s discipline began to unravel. A brilliant rampaging run from Ireland tighthead Sam Illo ended with Italy losing flanker Luca Andreani to a yellow card, and Doak’s penalty reducing the deficit to just one point.

Sensing the shift in momentum, Ireland started to take control with Forde pulling the strings.

No doubt eager to impress following his early yellow card, Postlethwaite delivered a huge hit to kill an Italy attack. Doak, taking another quick-tap penalty, then surged upfield and kicked through for Chay Mullins, who appeared to be pulled back by Italy wing Flavio Pio Vaccari in his chase. After a lengthy TMO check, Ireland were awarded the penalty, kicked to the corner, and another powerful maul saw the excellent Kendellen bag his second try, and the bonus point for Ireland, with Doak’s conversion clipping back off the post.

After a period of good defensive work from Ireland, Italy left some easy points behind, Marin snatching at a penalty attempt after Moxham had been pinged.

And as their challenge faded in the final quarter, Ireland produced some real moments of quality. Kendellen led by example with that relentless workrate, while Illo and Soroka also chipped in with some strong, purposeful carries. 

Italy tried to find a way back into the game, but Ireland were ultimately able to see out the contest with some comfort – Doak adding extra gloss to the scoreline with another late penalty – as Ireland kept their Six Nations title hopes alive ahead of next week’s meeting with France.

Italy scorers:

Tries: Simone Gesi, Tommaso Di Bartolomeo, Leonardo Marin

Conversion: Leonardo Marin [1 from 2]

Penalties: Leonardo Marin [2 from 3]

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Ireland scorers:

Tries: Eoin de Buitléar, George Saunderson, Alex Kendellen (2)

Conversions: Nathan Doak [2 from 4]

Penalty: Nathan Doak [2 from 2]

ITALY U20s: Lorenzo Pani (Mattia Ferrarin, 71); Flavio Pio Vaccari, Tommaso Menoncello (Fabio Schiabel, 68), Filippo Drago, Simone Gesi; Lenoardo Marin, Manfredi Albanese (Alessandro Garbisi, 59); Luca Rizzoli (Mirco Spagnolo, 71), Tommaso di Bartolomeo, Ion Neculai (Muhamed Hasa, 59); Giacomo Ferrari (Fabrizio Boschetti, 73), Nicola Piantella; Luca Andreani, Ross Micheal Vintcent, Lorenzo Cannone.

Yellow card: Luca Andreani

IRELAND U20s: Jamie Osborne; Conor Rankin (Ben Moxham, HT), Jude Postlethwaite, Ben Carson, Chay Mullins; James Humphreys (Cathal Forde, HT), Nathan Doak; George Saunderson (Jack Boyle, 64), Eoin de Buitléar (Ronan Loughnane, 52), Sam Illo (Liam Bishop, 38-HT, HIA); Mark Morrissey, Harry Sheridan; Alex Soroka, Alex Kendellen, Daniel Okeke. 

Yellow card: Jude Postlethwaite

Referee: Sam Grove-White (SRU)

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