England U20 moved to the top of the U20 Six Nations table after a much improved second half performance gave them a 19-14 victory over Ireland U20.
After an untidy first half from the visitors at Dublinâ€™s Donnybrook Stadium, England came flying out of the traps in the second half through tries from Waspsâ€™ Piers Oâ€™Connor, and Harlequinsâ€™ Peter Symonds pupil, Joe Marchant, turning a 9-6 deficit into a 19-14 win.
It was a hugely physical contest, and played at a fast pace throughout, with the artificial surface no doubt helping the game on what would otherwise have been a fairly stodgy pitch.
Ireland deservedly led at the break through their three Ross Byrne penalties to Englandâ€™s former Lymm High School scrum half James Mitchellâ€™s two, the home side had been on top at the breakdown, with England struggling to find much rhythm.
All of that changed in the second half though as substitute Piers Oâ€™Connor claimed a loose Byrne kick at full tilt to go streaking away into the left corner from inside his own half. It was a game changing moment and from that point on Englandâ€™s level rose magnificently, with a far more aggressive and determined approach to the game coming through.
There was one slightly more light hearted moment though midway through the second half, the scrums had become a bit of a flashpoint and had also started to become unstable. Pulling over England loosehead Ellis Genge and Ireland substitute tighthead Conan Oâ€™Donnell, the referee demanded that they stabilise the scrum, explaining that it had been good in the first half but now it was a mess. Cue Genge: â€œWell, he wasnâ€™t on in the first half sir.â€ A superb line, and while the Bristol man may not have been a prop for long, he has certainly picked up the knowing humour of the front row fraternity.
Ireland had briefly regained the lead after Oâ€™Connorâ€™s score, the sublime Garry Ringrose playing the final pass of a fine move to send winger Stephen Fitzgerald over to give the home side a 14-11 lead. If Ringrose is not soon in a senior shirt it would be a great surprise, his talent was clear to all throughout the night.
England responded well though, first through Mitchellâ€™s third penalty of the night before a sublime score from Joe Marchant. He was only a couple of yards out but the footwork he showed was straight out of the Jonathan Joseph catalogue, in fact, it was as good as any footwork that you will see. England, after putting on huge pressure, swept the ball from left to right where Marchant stood with a couple of men outside. Taking the ball on he seemed to have taken it too close to the defender before in a flash of quick feet he was back inside him and darting over the line, magnificent.
That gave England the 19-14 lead and they held on for the win, which Head Coach Jon Callard said made him â€˜hugely proudâ€™:
â€œIâ€™m hugely proud of the lads â€“ they put in an excellent performance and fully deserved the win. Ireland were physical and they were a constant threat throughout, but we showed real character and Iâ€™m delighted with the way we held firm and got the victory.â€
Captain Charlie Ewels, a calm presence throughout, was equally pleased, saying:
â€œThis was a huge game and to come out of it with a win is massive for us. Ireland came out of the blocks and had a pretty vocal home crowd behind them, but credit to our boys, we stuck at it and ground out the win.â€
â€œWe knew we were in for a tough game, and even when we managed to get ahead we knew that we couldnâ€™t let up because Ireland kept pushing.â€
Full Time: Ireland U20 14-19 England U20
Elsewhere Scotland U20 picked up their second victory in a row as they beat Italy 45-0, an excellent way to back up their 36-34 win over Wales a fortnight ago.
In total there were seven tries, a brace for captain Jamie Ritchie, one for his back row partner Neil Irvine-Ness, one each for replacement Ben Robbins, full back Ruairi Howarth, and former Millfield winger Alec Coombes. Scrum half George Horne, whose brother Peter starts at ten for the senior Scotland side today, also crossed the whitewash.
The win puts Scotland third in the table, level on points with England and Ireland, but behind on points difference, oh what their senior side would give for that table though.
Wales are in action today against France in Paris, the winner of that game will also join Scotland, England, and Ireland on 4 points, making this one of the most exciting possible Championships.
Full Time: Scotland U20 45-0 Italy U20
15 Aaron Moris (Saracens)
14 George Perkins (Saracens)
13 Joe Marchant (Harlequins)
12 Nick Tompkins (Saracens)
11 Howard Packman (Northampton Saints)
10 Oliver Bryant (Leicester Tigers)
9 James Mitchell (Sale Sharks)
1 Ellis Genge (Bristol)
2 Jack Walker (Yorkshire Carnegie)
3 Ciaran Parker (Sale Sharks)
4 Kieran Treadwell (Harlequins)
5 Charlie Ewels (Bath, captain)
6 Joe Batley (Gloucester)
7 Will Owen (Leicester Tigers)
8 James Chisholm (Harlequins)
Replacements:Â 16 Jack Innard (Exeter Chiefs),Â 17 Seb Adeniran-Olule (Harlequins),Â 18 Paul Hill (Yorkshire Carnegie), Â 19 Charlie Beckett (Leicester Tigers), Â 20 Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs), Â 21 Will Homer (Bath),Â 22 Piers Oâ€™Conor (Wasps),Â 23 Tom Howe (Wasps).
15 – Billy Dardis (UCD/ Leinster)
14 â€“ Jack Owens (QUB/ Ulster)
13 – Garry Ringrose (UCD/ Leinster)
12 – Sam Arnold (Ballynahinch/Ulster)
11 â€“ Stephen Fitzgerald (Shannon/ Munster)
10 – Ross Byrne (UCD / Leinster)
9 – Nick McCarthy (UCD/ Leinster) (Captain)
1 – Jeremy Loughman (UCD / Leinster)
2 – Zack McCall (QUB/Ulster)
3 – Oisin Heffernan (Terenure/Leinster)
4 – David O’Connor (St. Mary’s/Leinster)
5 – Alex Thompson (QUB/Ulster)
6 – Josh Murphy (UCD/Leinster)
7 – Rory Moloney (Buccaneers/Connacht)
8 – Lorcan Dow (QUB/Ulster)
Replacements:Â 16 – Adam McBurney (Ballymena/Ulster),Â 17 – Michael Lagan (Ballymena/Ulster),Â 18 – Conan O’Donnell (Sligo/NUIG/Connacht)Â 19 – Cian Romaine (Buccaneers/Connacht)Â 20 – Nick Timoney (St. Mary’s/Leinster)Â 21 – Jack Cullen (Shannon/Munster)Â 22 – Joey Carbery (UCD/Leinster)Â 23 â€“ Harrison Brewer (Terenure/ Leinster).
15. Ruairi Howarth
14. Ruaraidh Smith
13. Archie Russell
12. Patrick Kelly
11. Alex Coombes
10. Rory Hutchinson
9. George Horne
1. Murray McCallum
2. Ross Graham
3. Zander Fagerson
4. Andrew Davidson
5. Lewis Carmichael
6. Neil Irvine-Hess
7. Jamie Ritchie
8. Magnus Bradbury
Replacements:Â 16. Sam JamesÂ 17. Dan ElkingtonÂ 18. Jack OwlettÂ 19. Scott CummingsÂ 20. Ally MillerÂ 21. Ben VellacottÂ 22. Tom GalbraithÂ 23. Ben Robbins.