Ireland U20 mounted a stunning comeback to beat England U20 on Friday evening at Kingston Park, leaving both sides with one victory from their three 2016 U20 RBS 6 Nations fixtures to date.
A drop goal form Hartpury College old boy Mat Protheroe put England 20-6 up within a minute of the restart after half time, but form there Ireland came storming back to win 26-20, a quite stunning reversal.
The defeat is the first time since 2009 that England have lost two U20 6 Nations fixtures in the same campaign, and with Wales, their next opponents, on for a Grand Slam after beating France 16-10, life does not look like it is going to get much easier for the U20 Championship’s most successful side.
England actually came flying out of the traps in this game though, scoring a try after just four minutes through the former Old Swinford Hospital flanker Sam Smith, who was roaming on the tail of a driving maul from a five metre line out, borne form England’s superb scrummaging.
Protheroe converted, before Sedbergh old boy Johnny McPhillips landed one for Ireland. At times in the first half Protheroe looked like a man in a class of his own, and that was best shown as the first quarter of the game came to an end. Collecting the ball just inside Irish territory, Protheroe whipped out a dummy, showed a wiggle of the hips, and raced away until he was one on one with the full back, releasing Saracens’ George Perkins for one of the easier walk-ins that he will have.
That stretched England’s lead to 14-3, and while McPhillips pulled three back for Ireland, a late yellow card for Irish tighthead Conan O’Donnell allowed Protheroe to bring back the eleven point advantage, sending England into the break 17-6 ahead.
The game seemed to be going all the way of the men in white, with Ireland being overrun in the set piece and at the breakdown, while England’s game management was proving highly clinical.
That pattern only looked set to continue when Protheroe nailed his early drop goal, but from there Ireland sharpened up their intensity, earned parity, and then superiority, at the breakdown, and began to outdo England in the kicking game.
Tryscorer Smith saw yellow after four minutes of the half for a minor infringement at a maul, but it still looked like England were in control until three minutes later Ireland had another lineout deep in English territory.
Setting up the maul, they released the ball quickly for their magnificent second row and captain, James Ryan, to go barreling over. Just six minutes later they were crossing the whitewash again through Matthew Bryne, who had come on as a wing replacement. The Irish intensity had stepped up and their phase play sucked in the England defence, allowing McPhillips and his backline to release the unmarked Bryne for the try.
Suddenly 20-6 had turned to 20-18 in just six minutes, but the key moment was yet to come. As the game ticked towards the hour mark, England found a rare passage of second row momentum, from which Callum Chick went barreling over as he sent tacklers flying. The referee, however, with the aid of his TMO decided that Chick had in fact been tackled, and the try was chalked off.
It was a huge moment in terms of momentum, and Ireland’s tails were certainly up, as shown when they ran back an England kick with real venom and attacking intent. That spirited play saw them move into England’s 22, keeping England on the back foot and allowing Ryan to get over the gain line, freeing his arms to release loosehead Andrew Porter, who charged over the line to send Ireland into the lead for the first time in the game.
At 23-20 with just over ten minutes to play, the game was still theoretically anyone’s, but Ireland had all of the territory and momentum. That momentum looked sure to yield more points at some stage, and with seven minutes to go, the crack came. Whitgift old boy Stan South was penalised for tipping the man over horizontal in the clear out. Once again the referee went upstairs, and with the Irish player landing above his shoulders, and South having released him mid-fall, he showed the England lock a red card.
Newcaslte Falcons’ Brett Connon, on his home ground, nailed the penalty for Ireland to give them a sensational 26-20 victory at Kingston Park, their first of this year’s championship after defeats to Wales and France previously.
Speaking after the game, England U20 Head Coach Jon Callard said:
“The first few minutes after the break, which included the drop goal, demonstrated a sensational bit of rugby and first class game management, after that it was a catalogue of errors and credit to Ireland, their kicking game was better than ours. They forced us back into our territory and kept the pressure on.”
“The boys don’t go out to lose, they want to be the best they can be. I do feel for them, defeat hurts but out of it will come so much learning. As coaches we know a lot more about the players and they will know better what the intensity is like at this level. It is about what we take from this experience and how we move forward together into the rest of the tournament.”
“The next two games mean everything, this age group has been very successful over the last five years and we need to step up, there is a lot of pride. We will need to come prepared against a very good Welsh side in two weeks. Those final two games mean a lot for the players’ futures and we will keep building as a group.”
Full Time: England U20 20-26 Ireland U20
Elsewhere in the Championship, Wales kept their hopes for a Grand Slam firmly alive, thanks to a brilliant performance from Billy McBryde. They beat France, the only other side who were in contention for a Grand Slam, 16-10 to make it three wins from three and are now two points clear at the top of the table.
France remain in second after wins over Ireland and Italy, but they are level with Scotland who recovered from defeat to Wales last time out to beat Italy 24-14, their second victory of the Championship after beating England on the opening night.
England and Ireland are in fourth and fifth with one win each, while Italy sit at the foot of the table with no wins from their three games.
U20 RBS 6 Nations 3rd Round Results:
England U20 20-26 Ireland U20
Italy U20 14-24 Scotland U20
Wales U20 16-10 France U20
15 Max Malins (Saracens)
14 George Perkins (Saracens)
13 Joe Marchant (Harlequins)
12 Charlie Thacker (Leicester Tigers)
11 Ollie Thorley (Gloucester Rugby)
10 Mathew Protheroe (Gloucester Rugby)
9 Max Green (Yorkshire Carnegie)
1 Tom West (Wasps)
2 Jack Singleton (Worcester Warriors)
3 Will Stuart (Wasps)
4 Huw Taylor (Worcester Warriors)
5 George Nott (Sale Sharks)
6 Archie White (Harlequins)
7 Sam Smith (Worcester Warriors)
8 Callum Chick (Newcastle Falcons, captain)
16 Curtis Langdon (London Irish)
17 Jake Pope (Sale Sharks)
18 Billy Keast (Exeter Chiefs)
19 Stan South (Harlequins)
20Jack Willis (Wasps)
21 Jamie Shillcock (Worcester Warriors)
22 Joe Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs)
23 Paolo Odogwu (Leicester Tigers)
15 Jack Power (UCD / Leinster)
14 Hugo Keenan (UCD / Leinster)
13 Shane Daly (Cork Con / Munster)
12 Jimmy O’Brien (UCD / Leinster)
11 Conor O’Brien (Clontarf / Leinster)
10 Johnny McPhillips (QUB / Ulster)
9 Stephen Kerins (Sligo / Connacht)
1 Andrew Porter (UCD / Leinster)
2 Adam McBurney (Ballymena / Ulster)
3 Conán O’Donnell (Sligo / Connacht)
4 Peter Claffey (Galwegians / Connacht)
5 James Ryan (Lansdowne / Leinster, captain)
6 Cillian Gallagher (Sligo / Connacht)
7 Will Connors (UCD / Leinster)
8 Greg Jones (UCD / Leinster)
16 Shane Fenton (Young Munster / Munster)
17 James Bollard (Dublin University / Leinster)
18 Ben Betts (Munster / Young Munster)
19 Sean O’Connor (Cashel / Munster)
20 Kelvin Brown (Shannon / Munster)
21 John Poland (Cork Con / Munster)
22 Brett Connon (Newcastle Falcons)
23 Matthew Byrne (Terenure / Leinster)
15 Ruairi Howarth (Gala)
14 Ben Robbins (Currie)
13 George Taylor (Melrose)
12 Tom Galbraith (Melrose)
11 Darcy Graham (Hawick)
10 Rory Hutchinson (Northampton Saints)
9 Hugh Fraser (Heriot’s)
1 Murray McCallum (Heriot’s)
2 Lewis Anderson (Ayr)
3 Callum Sheldon (Leeds Beckett University)
4 Andrew Davidson (Glasgow Hawks)
5 Scott Cummings (Glasgow Hawks)
6 Scott Burnside (Boroughmuir)
7 Matt Smith (Glasgow Hawks)
8 Ally Miller (Melrose)
16 Fraser Renwick (Hawick)
17 George Thornton (Bishop Burton College)
18 Adam Nicol (Stirling County)
19 Callum Hunter-Hill (Stirling County)
20 Stephen Ainslie (Currie)
21 Charlie Shiel (Currie)
22 Chris Lines (Boroughmuir)
23 Robbie Nairn (Harlequins)
15 Rhun Williams (RGC); 14 George Gasson (Dragons), 13 Joe Thomas (Ospreys), 12 Harri Millard (Cardiff Blues), 11 Keelan Giles (Ospreys); 10 Billy McBryde (Scarlets), 9 Reuben Morgan-Williams (Ospreys); 1 Corey Domachowski (Cardiff Blues), 2 Dafydd Hughes (Scarlets), 3 Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Blues), 4 Shane Lewis-Hughes (Cardiff Blues), 5 Adam Beard (Ospreys), 6 Tom Phillips (captain, Scarlets), 7 Shaun Evans (Scarlets), 8 Harrison Keddie (Newport Gwent Dragons).
Replacements: 16 Ifan Phillips (Scarlets), 17 Rhys Fawcett (Scarlets), 18 Leon Brown (Newport Gwent Dragons), 19 Bryce Morgan (Newport Gwent Dragons), 20 Morgan Sieniawski (Cardiff Blues), 21 Declan Smith (Scarlets), 22 Kieran Williams (Ospreys), 23 Joe Gage (Ospreys).