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Dublin: 11 °C Tuesday 23 April, 2019
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'There was never a second in that game they didn’t believe they were going to win'

Noel McNamara heaped praise on the character shown by his players as they came from behind to complete a Grand Slam triumph.

Ryan Bailey reports from Parc Eirias, Colwyn Bay

THIS IRISH TEAM simply do not know when they’re beaten and even when they found themselves on the ropes here — a first U20s Grand Slam title threatening to slip from their grasp — they conjured the ultimate tour de force.

The imperfections of the performance will not take anything from the scale of this achievement, rather add to it as Noel McNamara’s young charges came from behind to beat a dangerous Welsh outfit and complete a remarkable clean sweep.

Ireland players celebrate after the game Ireland celebrate their Grand Slam in Wales. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It was a rip-roaring and rollicking affair, the momentum ebbing and flowing and leaving the outcome on a knife-edge, with Wales leading 10-7 at the break and then 17-14 with less than 10 minutes left on the clock — but McNamara’s side stuck to the principles which have served them so well throughout the championship, ultimately earning a 26-17.

They showed character, composure and maturity in abundance, not only to avoid panic when Wales threatened to spoil this Grand Slam party, but to produce a grandstand finish befitting of the occasion and their campaign, to emulate the feat of Eric Elwood’s 2007 team.

Jonathan Wren and Dylan Tierney-Martin scored tries either side of the interval for Ireland but when their backs were against the ball heading into the final quarter, the bench made a considerable impact, further underlining the depth which exists within this group.

Colm Reilly, called up to the bench when Craig Casey was ruled out of the starting team, spotted the gap in the Welsh defence brilliantly before darting through and racing around the covering defender for a score of outstanding individual quality and opportunism. A moment of magic out of nothing. 

Thomas Clarkson’s late try sealed the deal to spark wild celebrations on the pitch and in the stands, where many of the players’ friends and family had lived through every second of an utterly bizarre game. 

“It’s difficult to sum up, to be honest about it,” McNamara said afterwards. 

We just weren’t accurate in that first half, particularly around how we managed the game. We didn’t manage it well. We didn’t exit well, we gave them ins into the game. We defended resolutely throughout and I thought we put ourselves into a really good position just after half-time.

Time and time again, Ireland have shown their ability to dig deep and get themselves out of a hole, and they did that again here, both in the first half and in the closing exchanges.

Wales threatened to run away with it when replacement Ryan Conbeer began to cause damage, but Ireland rode their luck — as you so often have to do to win a Slam — and delivered the telling blow. 

Colm Reilly scores a try Colm Reilly scored the match-clinching try. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“You have to say, the resolve they showed at the end, I think Colm and Jake [Flannery] deserve particular praise for how they went at nine and 10. They really upped the tempo of the game for us,” McNamara continued.

“That was when we started to dictate the pace of the game. The reality was they were dictating the tempo up until point. Wales struggled to deal with it from that point.”

Home wins over England and world champions France and victories on the road against Scotland, Italy and now Wales, this was a memorable clean sweep for the class of 2019, who came together as a tight-knit bunch to write their own piece of history in north Wales.

“I think it is a testament to how they train, the resolve within the group, sticking to their process and believing. There was never a second in that game that they didn’t believe they were going to win,” McNamara added.

“It means a hell of a lot to the players who have worked very hard, and there is a big management team attached to this team and it was a just reward for them from the medics, our injury profile has been very good all through the campaign, how the players have been managed especially the work of the strength and conditioning lads.

“They deserve a lot of praise but predominantly the players.”

A night to remember, and a big future ahead for a special group of players.  

Bernard Jackman joins Murray Kinsella and Ryan Bailey on The42 Rugby Weekly as Ireland bid to spoil Wales’ Grand Slam party in Cardiff, and the U20s target their own piece of history.


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Ryan Bailey

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