Ben Brady/INPHO
coming of age

Ireland's U20s stun England in their backyard to edge closer to a grand slam

Ireland will win the grand slam if they beat Scotland next week.



THE MOST IMPRESSIVE thing about the Irish underage conveyor belt has not been the results,  even though they have been consistently good. No, it has been their ability to reinvent themselves year after year, to wave one set of precocious youngsters off and then start over.

From the class of James Ryan and Hugo Keenan, through to the year when Craig Casey and Ben Healy announced themselves, up to last season when Nathan Doak showed the rugby world what he was made of, Ireland’s Under 20 side have consistently punched above their weight.

They’ve done so again this year, winning away in France, beating a poor Welsh side and a better-than-usual Italian one, before coming here into the lion’s den and overcoming a disastrous start to secure a bonus-point win.

It wasn’t anywhere near as easy as the scoreline suggests. They were 10 points down after as many minutes; they were looking at the powerful Ewan Richards and wondering how they were going to cope.

Well, here’s how. When the game was at a crossroads, England one score away from dictating the tone of the evening, Ireland looked around for players to stick their hand up. First to do so was Mark Morrissey. It was his big carry that got Ireland into the redzone at a stage when they desperately needed points.

Later it was Matthew Devine, their brilliant young scrum half, who got across for an opportunist try – but that wouldn’t have happened had Morrissey not made the initial break. And right across the pitch, you could see young Irish players coming of age.

Devine looks a class act; his half-back partner, Charlie Tector, another to keep an eye on. Conor O’Tighearnaigh, Morrissey’s second-row partner, has a huge future ahead of him and you could say the same for their back-row trio, Lorcan McLoughlin, Reuben Crothers and James Culhane. Then there was their replacement wing, Aitzol King, who used his first two touches of the ball to score two tries.

Remember their names.

mark-morrissey-makes-a-break Mark Morrissey makes a burst. Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

They fought for everything here. Their scrum was solid, their linespeed impressive in defence but most of all, they excelled at the breakdown and pretty much got what they wanted for 20 golden minutes of the first-half when a 10-0 deficit was turned into a 17-10 lead.

They needed those scores because their start had been awful, English full-back George Hendy scoring on five minutes, straight off a first phase attack, where England passed the ball through three pairs of hands before Hendy found the gap from Jacob Cusick’s pass to race clear,  Fionn Gibbons caught out in defence.

Jamie Benson converted and added a penalty five minutes later to suggest it would be one of those nights.

But it wasn’t. Ireland were intent on making their own mark on this game. They scrapped for possession, getting on the board through a Tector penalty after some decent phase-building play led to England panicking a bit under pressure.

Now it was 10-3 and by the time Devine was darting through a gap on 18 minutes to expose some disorganisation in the England defence, the scores were level.

Momentum was with Ireland. Their second try stemmed from a scrum and also from a belief in their recycling technique, Culhane carrying impressively, Lorcan McLoughlin getting across from close range. From 0-10 down to 17-10 up in 14 minutes, we knew we had a game on our hands.

But England were always going to have their moments. They drew level nine minutes before half-time when John Stewart, their huge hooker, spun off their maul to power towards the line. To his credit, Ireland out-half Tector held him up, but the ball spilled backwards and Emeka Ilione followed up to score. Benson converted.

charlie-tector-kicks-a-penalty Charlie Tector excelled from the kicking tee Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

The scores were level and stayed that way until the 43rd minute when a series of pick-and-goes ended with tight-head, Rory McGuire, squeezing over the line.

Again, their recycling work was brilliant; their technique flawless, their intent a marvel to watch. Tector converted, Ireland now led 24-17.

They were unfortunate not to move further ahead when McLaughlin was held up over the line by Ilione following yet another initial break by Devine, Tector’s 54th minute penalty an insufficient return for their dominance in that third quarter.

You wondered whether they would pay the price for their wastefulness when Cassius Cleaves finished out wide to reduce the gap to five.

But no. This was not to be England’s night. Instead it belonged to Tector, McLoughlin, to all this Ireland team but most of all to King who just lit this game up in the way only a few players are capable of doing.

His first involvement was pretty impressive; his second simply electrifying, each leading to tries, taking a scoreline from 27-22 to 39-22 in the space of five minutes.

Try No1 saw King race through a gap at the back of a line-out – his burst of speed taking him clear of Johnson. Five minutes later he got a better score, again down that right wing, only this time he evaded three players, Hendy, Johnson and Grayson, to touch down in the corner.

A Tector penalty made it 42-22 but England weren’t done. Deago Bailey got a try five minutes from the end. It hardly mattered. This Ireland side are on a mission. Only Scotland can stop them from achieving it. On this evidence, they don’t have the capacity to do so.



Tries: Hendy, Ilione, Cleaves, Bailey

Conversions: Benson (2/2) Johnson (0/2)

Penalties: Benson (1/1)


Tries: Devine, McLoughlin, McGuire, King 2

Conversions: Tector (4/5)

Penalties: Tector (3/3)

ENGLAND U20s: George Hendy; Deago Bailey, Jacob Cusick, Ethan Grayson, Cassius Cleaves; Jamie Benson, Sam Edwards; Fin Baxter, John Stewart, Tim Hoyt; Lewis Chessum, Tom Lockett, Ewan Richards, Toby Knight, Emeka Ilione.

Replacements: Finn Theobald-Thomas, Mark Dormer, Mikey Summerfield, Chandler Cunningham-South, Lucas Brooke, Nye Thomas, Louie Johnson, Will Joseph.

IRELAND U20s: Patrick Campbell; Chay Mullins, Jude Postlethwaite, Ben Carson, Fionn Gibbons; Charlie Tector, Matthew Devine; Jack Boyle, James McCormick, Rory McGuire; Conor O’Tighearnaigh, Mark Morrissey; Lorcan McLoughlin, Reuben Crothers, James Culhane.

Replacements: Josh Hanlon, Oisin Michel, Scott Wilson, James McNabney, Diarmuid Mangan, Ethan Coughlan, Tony Butler, Aitzol King.  

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel