First Half Blitz Sees Ireland As Comfortable Winners Over Wales

Ireland U20 england

Ireland U20 36 – 22 Wales U20

Sean McMahon reporting from Musgrave Park.

A week on, Ireland were back out under Friday Night Lights at Musgrave Park in Cork as they looked to back up their opening-round victory over Scotland.

Their opponents on this occasion were Wales, a team smarting from their defeat to Italy in Colwyn Bay last weekend.

Ireland head coach Noel McNamara made two changes to his starting XV coming into this clash but he was forced into a third, late change as powerful centre Hayden Hyde was ruled out through illness. Luis Faria was promoted to the 12 shirt while the uncapped Conor Rankin came onto the bench.

Ireland U20 head coach Noel McNamara

Much of the talk during the week centred around the physicality Wales would bring and how they would be looking for an immediate response after their shock defeat last weekend.

That response didn’t come for Wales for large portions of this game as Ireland had the game won at halftime but credit must be given to the visitors for how they responded in the second 40 to put some respectability on the scoreboard.

Within the opening seconds, you got a sense that this Welsh side would not be claiming an opening win in this year’s Six Nations. With Ireland kicking off, Wales suffered a lapse in concentration to allow Jack Crowley’s kick-off to bounce into touch inside their own 22.

The visitors managed to claim their own lineout before scrum-half Dafydd Buckland saw his clearing kick blocked by Ireland openside Mark Hernan. The number seven then pounced on the ball to dive over the line and score. Last week’s star, Crowley, converted to hand Ireland a superb start to the game.

Mark Hernan celebrates his try

Ireland were humming and on Wales’ next possession their out-half Sam Costelow had his own kick blocked, this time by the excellent Tom Stewart. This gave McNamara’s side possession just outside the Welsh 22 but an unforced error put a halt to any further opportunity.

The next 15 minutes was a scrappy affair as both teams failed to stamp any authority on the game. Ireland were penalised at the scrum before a period of Welsh possession was turned over at the breakdown by the home side.

Crowley then took charge by using the outside of the right boot to kick his side deep into the Welsh 22. Wales just about secured the lineout but powerful and aggressive work at the breakdown saw Ireland emerge with the ball a few metres out from the Welsh line. A few carries in the tight exchanges followed until the ball was sent to Dan Kelly at pace and the outside centre had enough momentum to power through contact to cross the line under the posts.

Crowley converted to give Ireland a 14-0 lead and the home side were cruising.

Wales responded with a long period of possession deep in the Irish 22 but the defence held firm as Wales were forced to chip over the top in the hope of forcing an error from Andrew Smith.

Andrew Smith

However, the winger, who won the Leinster Senior Schools Cup final in 2018 with St Michael’s, showed incredible balance and footwork to dance up the near touchline where he beat five defenders before eventually being brought to ground. Smith, on his mother’s side, comes from GAA royalty and is related to former Mayo intercounty footballer Kevin O’Neill and of course, Kevin’s father Liam, who was on that famed Galway team of the 1970s.

Ireland coughed up the ball with a loose offload after Smith’s break but a poor Welsh clearance kick was picked up around halfway by Oran McNulty. The Connacht Academy back showed off his footwork to get Ireland on the front foot before offloading to Sean O’Brien. O’Brien who had set up a try for Smith last Friday night, was the provider for Lewis Finlay this time around, as he timed his pass to perfection to release the scrum-half who scampered under the posts to touch down.

Andrew Smith

Crowley’s conversion saw Ireland with what already looked to be an insurmountable lead after just 24 minutes.

Cork Con’s Crowley kept the scoreboard ticking over as the match reached the half-hour mark with a cooly struck penalty extending Ireland’s advantage to 24-0.

Wales did receive a lifeline when a Crowley pass to Brian Deeny didn’t go to hand. The ball was hacked downfield where Sam Costelow kicked through for Osian Knott to touch down for their first try of the game.

With halftime approaching, Ireland all but secured the outcome of this match. Some Welsh indiscipline gave Ireland a lineout 5m out from the visitors’ line. A quick throw to the front from Stewart saw a maul set up at incredible pace. The maul trundled forward with quite a lot of momentum where Hernan was on hand to touch down.

Crowley nailed the touchline conversion to give McNamara’s side a 31-7 halftime lead.

Wales started the second half the stronger as a Costelow penalty reduced the deficit by three points and then the home side conceded a penalty try when Joe McCarthy illegally infringed during a dominant maul.

All of a sudden, Ireland’s lead was cut to 14 as were their numbers on the pitch but they managed this period very well without conceding any further points and when McCarthy returned to the fray, Ireland pounced once again.

Just a metre or so out from the Welsh line, captain David McCann looked like he was going to carry but he scooped the ball in one fluid motion out to the wing for Smith to collect and dive over in the corner.

Wales managed one last try for their efforts as Osian Knott scored after catching Ireland low in numbers after spreading the ball wide quickly but Ireland saw out the game comfortable 36-22 winners to keep their title defence firmly on track.

Ireland: Oran McNulty, Ben Moxham, Dan Kelly, Luis Faria, Andrew Smith, Jack Crowley (Corkery 80′), Lewis Finlay (Murphy 77′), Marcus Hannan (Ward 55′), Tom Stewart (McKee 68′), Thomas Clarkson (Noonan 80′), Thomas Ahern, Brian Deeny (McCarthy HIA 14′ Deeny 27′ McCarthy 40′), Sean O’Brien, Mark Hernan (Prendergast 68′), David McCann.

Replacements: John McKee, Harry Noonan, Charlie Ward, Joe McCarthy, Cian Prendergast, Ben Murphy, Tim Corkery, Conor Rankin.

Wales: Ioan Lloyd, Daniel John (Roderick 53′), Osian Knott, Aneurin Owen, Ewan Rosser, Sam Costelow (Thomas 63′), Dafydd Buckland (Bevan 41′), Theo Bevacqua, Will Griffiths (Booth 53′), Ben Warren (O’Connor 65′), Jac Price (Fender 40′ Price 45′ Fender 65′), Ben Carter (Price 72′ HIA Carter 79′), Ioan Davies (Bradley 65′), Jac Morgan (C), Morgan Strong

Replacements: Dom Booth, Callum Williams, Harri O’Connor, James Fender, Gwilym Bradley, Ellis Bevan, Bradley Roderick, Josh Thomas

Read More About: Ireland U20, Top Story, u20 six nations, Wales U20

Author: Sean McMahon

Sean is Deputy Editor and head rugby writer. You can contact him by email seanmc@punditarena.com or on Twitter View all posts by Sean McMahon