Ireland are into their first ever World Rugby U20 Championship final after a dominant 37-7 victory over Argentina in this evening’s semi final.
The young men in green have had to do it the hard way, their group contained the 2015 Champions, New Zealand, the 2016 U20 RBS 6 Nations Grand Slam Winners, Wales, and next year’s Championship hosts, Georgia.
Despite that though, Ireland have reached the final. Indeed in truth they have looked outstanding ever since they came back from 17-0 down to beat Wales in their opening game.
Today’s game against Argentina looked like it could be a tricky task, Argentina looked like one of the form teams in the competition having already seen off the challenge of South Africa, Japan, and France.
In all honesty though, the only time that Ireland looked remotely like they were not on top was at the anthems, where Argentina’s obvious passion was simply breathtaking, their hooker, Baldunciel, was in tears.
That anthem passion was the last time Argentina had one up on the Group A winners though, perhaps they were too emotional, Ireland were 21-0 up in under half an hour.
The truth is though that Ireland were simply magnificent, particularly in the forwards where their work at the scrum and the breakdown was on a different level to Argentina altogether.
Chief among those in the back were Ireland inspirational captain and second row, James Ryan, and their colossus at number 8, Mac Deegan.
It was through the backs though that Ireland took the lead, with the former Sedbergh School star Johnny McPhillips hoisting a big up and under from fly half, which after a strong challenge in the air saw full back Jacob Stockdale, surely in with a shout for a place in the team of the tournament, to dive over. With McPhillips converting, that gave Ireland a 7-0 lead after 9 minutes.
Argentina came back a little, missing a penalty, and then attacking Irish 22. However that man Deegan stuck out one of his giant paws to seize on scum half Baronio’s pass, intercepting before covering the length of the field from there to score in the corner, outpacing a couple of backs in the process.
With McPhillips converting, Ireland were already building an intimidating looking 14-0 lead, and it only took another six minutes for that lead to begin to feel like it might be a game winning one. It was Stockdale again, taking advantage of some brilliant handling on the left hand side to streak away with his combination of pace and physicality. Another stunning McPhillips conversion gave the crowd more than just hope, there was almost a sense of expectation that Ireland would convert this advantage into a place in the final.
Argentina just tempered that as the half drew to a close though, captain Mallia dotting down under the posts following a delightful little grubber from fly half Miotti, whose conversion sent the sides in 21-7 at half time.
If it just tempered the crowds belief for a moment, it certainly did not seem to affect Ireland on the pitch. Indeed they came out in the second half to start playing the sort of ruthlessly efficient rugby that sealed Joe Schmidt’s senior side the Six Nations title in 2015.
In a fourteen minute period from the 50th minute, Ireland earned themselves four kickable penalties and a drop goal attempt from McPhillips. He landed four of them, stretching the Irish lead to a simply unassailable 30-7.
It was brilliant rugby, Test Match rugby. In many way it will be the period that most excites the coaches of Ireland’s senior side, demonstrating that this group is not just talented, they are smart, and having that game-winning nous.
What it also served to do was to frustrate Argentina, and that frustration boiled over in quite spectacular style with ten minutes left to play as their replacement prop, Pulella, flew over the top of a maul with a headbutt. In was reminiscent of Callum Clark in 2008 in the final when he was captain of England U20 against New Zealand, and like Clark, Pulella rightly saw red for his offence.
If the game was not already dead, that certainly killed it off, however there was still time for one final Irish flourish. With the clock deep in the red, Argentina tried to run it from their own line but, like Deegan in the first half, Ireland’s outside centre, Shane Daly, plucked the ball from the air to score underneath the sticks, allowing Brett Connon to land the conversion to seal a magnificent 37-7 victory for Ireland.
They now face the hosts, England, in what is be their 4th final in a row. A daunting task if ever there was one. One suspects though that in this form Ireland simply will not care. They have been challenged in all sorts of ways in this competition so far, and every time they have risen to it, there’s no reason to suspect they will not do the same again this time, particularly with the likes or Ryan, Deegan, and Stockdale in their lineup. It will not be long until you see those names in a senior side.
Full Time: Ireland U20 37-7 Argentina U20
Ireland U20 XV
15 Jacob Stockdale (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster)
14 Matthew Byrne (Terenure College/Leinster)
13 Shane Daly (Cork Constitution/Munster)
12 Conor O’Brien (Clontarf/Leinster)
11 Hugo Keenan (UCD/Leinster)
10 Johnny McPhillips (Queen’s University/Ulster)
9 Stephen Kerins (Sligo/Connacht)
1 Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster)
2 Adam McBurney (Ballymena/Ulster)
3 Ben Betts (Young Munster/Munster)
4 Sean O’Connor (Cashel/Munster)
5 James Ryan (Lansdowne/Leinster, captain)
6 Greg Jones (UCD/Leinster)
7 David Aspil (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
8 Max Deegan (Lansdowne/Leinster)
16 Vincent O’Brien (Cork Constitution/Munster)
17 James Bollard (Dublin University/Leinster)
18 Adam Coyle (Naas/Leinster)
19 Evan Mintern (Cork Constitution/Munster)
20 Kelvin Brown (Shannon/Munster)
21 Niall Saunders (Harlequins/Exiles)
22 Brett Connon (Newcastle Falcons/Exiles)
23 Jimmy O’Brien (UCD/Leinster)
Argentina U20 XV
13 Mallia (captain)
1 Ricco RICCO
18 Del Pazo
20 Stavile Bravin
21 Bazan Velez
World Rugby U20 Championship Semi Final Results:
Ireland 37-7 Argentina
England v South Africa
5th-8th Semi Finals
New Zealand 71-12 Wales
Scotland v Australia
9th-12th Semi Finals
Georgia 18-17 Italy
France 41-27 Japan
World Rugby U20 Championship Finals Day Fixtures:
Saturday 25th June
Final – Ireland v England/South Africa – 19.00, AJ Bell Stadium
3rd Place Play-Off – Argentina v England/South Africa – 16.45, AJ Bell Stadium
5th Place Play-Off – New Zealand v Scotland/Australia – 14.30, AJ Bell Stadium
7th Place Play-Off – Wales v Scotland/Australia – 16.30, Manchester City Academy Stadium
9th Place Play-Off – Georgia v France– 14.15, Manchester City Academy Stadium
11th Place Play-Off – Italy v Japan – 12.00, Manchester City Academy Stadium
|World Rugby U20 Championship – Pool A Final Standings|
|World Rugby U20 Championship – Pool B Final Standings|
|World Rugby U20 Championship – Pool C Final Standings|