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Dublin: 7 °C Thursday 27 February, 2020

Injury-hit Ireland run out of steam in semi-final points chase

A bonus-point win over Italy is unlikely to be enough for Noel McNamara’s side to advance to the last four of the U20 World Championship.

Italy 14
Ireland 38

A BONUS-POINT WIN under these circumstances is not to be sniffed at, and certainly this was another mighty effort from Noel McNamara’s charges in the heat of Santa Fe, but it’s unlikely to be enough to secure a U20 World Championship semi-final berth.

Ireland collected the required five match points courtesy of five converted tries, four of which came during a dominant first-half display, but their bid to keep the foot on the gas and rack up a big score ran out of steam.

Ben Healy Healy kicked 13 points for Ireland. Source: Pablo Gasparini/INPHO

Following Saturday’s defeat to Australia, McNamara’s Grand Slam winners knew they needed to improve their points difference to give themselves any chance of advancing through as the best runner-up, and they were well on their way in the first half.

Michael Milne, Cormac Foley, Azur Allison and Rob Russell all crossed before the interval but, having lost four players to injury in the opening two pool games, Ireland’s resources were stretched further here.

Firstly, Sale Sharks flanker Ciaran Booth was stretchered off with a serious-looking leg injury after he was dangerously and recklessly hit from the side whilst competing at the breakdown, before Thomas Ahern and Angus Kernohan were also forced off. There was no respite for the medical staff in the second half as David McCann suffered an apparent head knock.

With McNamara’s side feeling the toll of three games in eight days, Italy scored two tries either side of half-time and although Ireland got over for a fifth through Ryan Baird, they were left running on empty for much of the second half.

It now brings Ireland’s injury toll to eight for the tournament with John Hodnett, Sean French, Iwan Hughes and Stewart Moore already gone home, while the likes of Scott Penny and captain David Hawkshaw were ruled out before the squad flew to Argentina.

Ireland finish the pool stages on 10 points and their only hope of progressing through to the semi-finals is if there is a 40-point difference between New Zealand and South Africa in their pool clash later this evening [KO 7pm].

More likely, however, is that Ireland will go through to the fifth-place playoffs next Monday, with their opponents to be confirmed later. 

In the knowledge a bonus-point victory was the minimum requirement, Ireland made their intent clear from the outset with a fast start, as McNamara’s side crossed through Milne and Russell inside the opening exchanges.

Cormac Foley tackled by Paolo Garbisi Foley scored Ireland's second try. Source: Pablo Gasparini/INPHO

Dominating possession and territory, Ireland wasted little time in making inroads on the scoreboard and their fast and loose approach paid instant dividends, with Milne using his power to drive over from close range.

Although they lost openside Booth, Ireland weren’t deterred by another setback and, making the use of their dual playmakers in the backline, displayed their full arsenal of attacking skills.

Following Kernohan’s excellent win in the air down the right, the green shirts moved the ball across the park before Liam Turner linked with Russell, who in turn popped it back inside for Foley to run the second score home.

Ben Healy, who had also knocked over a penalty, added the extras for a 17-0 lead with just 15 minutes on the clock. 

At the other end, Ireland were pressed into defensive mode for the first time as Italy looked to exert some pressure of their own, but a late hit on Kernohan released the valve and allowed Healy find another excellent touch. 

The first lineout was scrappy as Ireland lost possession at the tail but then, with Charlie Ryan on for the injured Ahern, McNamara’s side stole one back, setting up the platform for Allison to barrel his way over.

Six minutes before the break, Ireland had secured the bonus-point score. The forwards again did the heavy work, getting through 12 phases around the fringes, before Healy turned on the style with a reverse offload for Russell to get in on the act in the far corner.

The Garryowen out-half continued his 100% strike-rate off the tee to extend Ireland’s lead but they were pegged back on the stroke of half-time, when Italy laid siege and eventually got over through scrum-half Paolo Garbisi, not before Kernohan became the third player forced off through injury. 

Rob Russell scores a try Russell dives in for Ireland's fourth. Source: Pablo Gasparini/INPHO

Ireland were back underneath their own posts within minutes of the restart, as Colm Reilly missed the kick-off and, after sustained pressure, the referee awarded Italy a penalty try at scrum-time.

After losing their way before and after the interval, Ireland regained their bearings to take control of the contest again, with Turner making the initial break and then Baird eventually found a way over through the mountain of bodies.

Both sides unloaded their replacement benches in exacting conditions as handling errors became par for the course in the final quarter, as all of the rhythm and momentum was sucked out of the Irish performance. 

They’ll look to recharge the batteries to go again on Monday, but more reinforcements may be required. 

Italy scorers:

Tries: Alessandro Fusco, penalty try
Conversions: Paolo Garbisi [1 from 1].

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Michael Milne, Cormac Foley, Azur Allison, Rob Russell, Ryan Baird. 
Penalties: Ben Healy [1 from 1].
Conversions: Ben Healy [5 from 5].

ITALY: 15. Ange Capuozza, 14. Jacopo Trulla, 13. Federico Mori, 12. Damiano Mazza, 11. Cristian Lai, 10. Paolo Garbisi (Giacomo Da Re 56′), 9. Alessandro Fusco; 1. Lorenzo Michelini (Matteo Drudi 38′), 2. Niccolò Taddia (Andrej Marinello 38′), 3. Matteo Nocera (Filippo Alongi 38′), 4. Nicolare Stoian (Andrea Zambonin 38′), 5. Thomas Parolo, 6. Angelo Maurizi (Andrea Chianucci 56′), 7. Davide Ruggeri (captain), 8. Antoine Koffi (Mirko Finotto 38′)

Replacements not used: 18. Luca Francheschetto, 23. Lorenzo Citton, 25. Giulio Bertaccini, 26. Matteo Moscardi, 27. Edoardo Mastandrea, 28. Micheal Mba. 

IRELAND: 15. Jake Flannery (David Ryan 78′), 14. Angus Kernohan (Jonathan Wren 40′), 13. Liam Turner (captain), 12. Cormac Foley (Max O’Reilly 78′), 11. Rob Russell, 10. Ben Healy, 9. Colm Reilly; 1. Josh Wycherley (Tom Clarkson 43′), 2. John McKee (Dylan Tierney-Martin 51′), 3. Michael Milne, 4. Thomas Ahern (Charlie Ryan 32′), 5. Ryan Baird, 6. David McCann (Luke Clohessy 58′), 7. Ciaran Booth (Niall Murray 11′), 8. Azur Allison.

Replacements not used: 16. Declan Adamson, 18. Charlie Ward, 24. Craig Casey, 27. Aaron O’Sullivan.

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Ryan Bailey

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