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Exhilarating Ireland U20s tear into England for bonus point win

Noel McNamara’s were in sublime form as they scored six tries in Northampton.

Team-mates run to celebrate as Hayden Hyde touches down a try.
Team-mates run to celebrate as Hayden Hyde touches down a try.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Ireland U20: 39

England U20: 21

A SENSATIONAL OFFLOAD from Ethan McIlroy will rightly head up the highlight reels, but it was merely the icing on the cake of another sublime attacking display from Ireland U20s.

They are now two games away from completing back-to-back Grand Slams and looked full value for that sort of billing as they ran in six tries against perennial challengers England.

The hosts were missing a handful of players to Premiership duty, but the pace and power Ireland inflicted on the hosts in Franklin’s Gardens made it appear as though there was a vast gulf in quality between the sides.

The cohesion which the Ireland squad speaks and works so long at creating was made clear as the visitors mixed hard carries in the tight with brilliant expansive play leading to a brace of tries for Tom Ahern while Alex Soroka, Hayden Hyde, McIlroy and Max O’Reilly also touched down.

irelands-max-oreilly-scores-a-try Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Noel McNamara’s side ramped up to their first away match of the year speaking about the size and heft of the opposition, but all the while maintained that their chief focus was on their own game.

It was time very well spent. Ireland looked every bit the defending Grand Slam champs as they ran up a try-scoring bonus point and a 7-29 lead by the half-time whistle.

The visitors tore into England with a scintillating mix of abrasive forward carrying and confident, slick passing across their back-line. The tone, and the influence of fullback Oran McNulty, was on show right from the early exchanges as Jack Crowley, Andrew Smith and McNulty combined and Smith’s attempted pass to McIlroy was disrupted just enough to deny the wing a 10-metre sprint for the line – his time would come. 

Suitably warned by another attack that ended with Crowley slotting a penalty, England responded with venom. The swirling wind around Franklin’s Gardens warded them off a 35-metre penalty effort and Rusiate Tuima made a big gain off the resulting line-out before George Hammond carried over the whitewash.

There was no chance of England settling with their advantage as McNamara’s attack kept coming in green waves. Soroka spilled on his way to a would-be try on 12 minutes, but made no mistake five minutes later.

Taking Lewis Finlay’s short-side pass low into contact, the former Belvedere schoolboy didn’t allow himself to go fully aground and instead pumped his legs to make space for a lunge at the line.

The best was yet to come from the visitors as they began reaping the rewards of their high-tempo expansive gameplan. Moving the ball swiftly towards the right flank, Sean O’Brien offloaded to McIlroy and the Ulster-capped wing showed his star quality, keeping his feet in play while unleashing an audacious behind-the-back offload into the waiting arms of Hyde, who touched down.

McNulty, Hyde and McIlroy were at the heart of a brilliant third try for Ireland too, the latter showing brilliant footwork this time before Ahern arrived on time to force his way over.

Even losing Crowley to HIA – mysteriously after he kicked a brilliant touchline conversion – couldn’t slow Ireland’s progress. Tim Corkery was in the 10 role when the bonus point was put safely in the bag on the stroke of half-time as Hyde returned the favour, giving McIlroy an easy finish from a brilliant offload out of contact.

ethan-mcilroy-celebrates-his-try Ethan McIlroy celebrates. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The phrase ‘game of two halves’ lingered for a while after half-time as Hugh Tizard narrowed the deficit and England mustered an intensity to force Ireland onto the back foot. 

Yet Ireland proved they still had plenty of magic under their hat. A line-out on half-way was moved swiftly across the line with Dan Kelly creating a loop before McNulty slipped Max O’Reilly (just on the field in place of Hyde) through a gap.

O’Reilly showed his Sevens pedigree by gobbling up the yards, sharing the attack with Smith, who completed the one-two pass to send O’Reilly tumbling over despite George Barton’s tackle.

irelands-max-oreilly-scores-a-try O'Reilly crashes over for Ireland. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

14-34 to the good, but the hosts made sure to let Ireland know there was plenty of the game left to run as Theo Dan pegged back another seven-pointer to put two bonus points within reach for Alan Dickens’ side.

Captain David McCann came to the fore for his side when momentum was threatening to turn against then, the number eight showing his breakdown expertise to force crucial breakdown penalties at vital junctures to sap the energy of the English fightback.

And the Friday night triumph was complete with seven minutes remaining as Tom Stewart pounced on a loose pass and, almost in the same motion, flung a pass wide to McNulty.

The fullback might have passed inside, but it’s tough to begrudge the attempt to finish himself. And though he was caught, that man Ahern wasn’t long in joining the cavalry and powering over for his second.

It’s Ireland’s third win from four meetings with England U20s over the past 13 months. By doing it on English soil they’ve underlined their Grand Slam credentials.  

Scorers

England U20

Tries: G Hammond, H Tizard, T Dan

Conversions: G Barton (3/3)

Ireland U20

Tries: A Soroka, H Hyde, T Ahern (2), E McIlroy M O’Reilly

Conversions: J Crowley (3/6)

Penalties J Crowley (1/1)

England U20 : 15. Freddie Steward, 14. Gabriel Hamer-Webb, 13. Connor Doherty (Max Ojoomoh ’73), 12. Charlie Watson, 11. Tom Roebuck, 10. George Barton, 9. Sam Maunder (Blake Boyland ’73); 1. Sam Crean (Emmanuel Iyogun ’40), 2. Theo Dan, 3. Luke Green (Harvey Beaton ’40), 4. Hugh Tizard (Chunya Munga ’53), 5. George Hammond, 6. Richard Capstick, 7. Josh Gray (Rob Farrar ’53), 8. Rusiate Tuima

Ireland U20: 15. Oran McNulty, 14. Ethan McIlroy, 13. Dan Kelly, 12. Hayden Hyde (Max O’Reilly ’49), 11. Andrew Smith, 10. Jack Crowley (Tim Corkery ’78), 9. Lewis Finlay (Ben Murphy ’74), 1. Marcus Hanan (Charlie Ward ’55), 2. John McKee (Tom Stewart ’55), 3. Thomas Clarkson (Harry Noonan ’78), 4. Thomas Ahern (Joe McCarthy ’74), 5. Brian Deeny, 6. Alex Soroka (Cian Prendergast ’62), 7. Sean O’Brien, 8. David McCann 

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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