Ireland U20 38 – 26 Scotland U20
Sean McMahon reporting from Musgrave Park.
A new year, a new batch of talent ready to announce themselves to the wider Irish rugby audience.
Last year’s U20 Grand Slam success brought much optimism that the future of rugby in this country was in good hands. That has been reflected by the meteoric rise of the class of 2019 who have gone on to play senior rugby at their provinces at both PRO14 and European level. Even Ryan Baird has been included in Andy Farrell’s senior Six Nations squad as a development player.
So who was going to be the next potential star to light up the Cork venue like so many did last year?
While there were excellent performances from the likes of Thomas Ahern, Hayden Hyde and Ethan McIlroy, the one player who Irish supporters couldn’t stop talking about at full-time was out-half Jack Crowley.
The 2o-year-old scored two first-half tries to help give his side a commanding 21-12 lead at the interval but it was his second try which will live long in the memory as he produced deft footwork, speed and a powerful fend to score a superb solo effort which began in his own 22.
Ireland started off on the front foot with some really strong carries from the impressive Hayden Hyde in the opening exchanges. He was Ireland’s go-to ball-carrier in the backs, a responsibility which he excelled at as he continually provided Ireland with front-foot ball.
On the other side of the ball, winger Ethan McIlroy was feverish in his tackling as he shut down dangerous Scottish attacks time and time again.
A series of Irish scrums close to the Scottish line led to the first try of the game. Charlie Ward fired a pass to the onrushing Oran McNulty who laid it off to Dan Kelly. Kelly’s offload went to ground but out-half Crowley was first on the scene to collect the bouncing ball and scythe through the Scottish defence to touch down for the first try of the night.
Scotland hit back immediately when Ewan Ashman burst through the Irish defence to touch down next to the post. Ireland head coach Noel McNamara will be disappointed with conceding the score as two Irish defenders failed to bring the big hooker down.
Nathan Chamberlain knocked over the conversion to level the score.
Ireland hit back with a try to regain their lead and it came from tighthead prop Thomas Clarkson who was one of the standout players of last year’s U20 contingent. The Leinster Academy prop picked the ball up from the ruck to crash over from close range after Ireland once again used a 5m scrum as a platform for an attack.
The see-saw nature of the opening half continued as Scotland then dominated the next 15 minutes as their powerful maul in combination with some poor discipline from Ireland, gave the visitors the opportunity to set up shop in the Irish 22.
Eventually, this culminated in a try as the ball was played to the left-hand touchline from a midfield scrum. Although a similar move, which included a skip pass, just minutes earlier failed, out-half Nathan Chamberlain this time played the ball to Matthew McCallum who sucked in a defender before releasing Jack Bain to touch down in the corner.
The conversion was wide and with only a two-point lead Ireland were certainly playing on the edge but then Crowley stepped up again for his side with the moment of the match.
The out-half produced a moment of individual brilliance when captain David McCann slapped the ball back inside his 22 after Scotland’s Rory Jackson spilled the ball forward.
Similar to his first try, Crowley reacted quickest to a bouncing ball. He gathered it inside his own 22 and the young Bandon man then produced an audacious step to dumbfound some Scottish would-be tacklers.
The 20-year-old then sprinted down the near touchline and deep into the Scottish half where he met Scotland fullback Ollie Smith. Crowley would not be stopped as he fended off the last-ditch tackle attempt to power through the tackle and stroll under the posts for a remarkable try.
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That was just the tonic Ireland needed after soaking up a lot of Scottish pressure in the previous 15 minutes and Noel McNamara’s side went into the halftime break with a 21-12 lead.
Ireland were a much more ruthless animal when they returned for the second half.
Within four minutes of the restart, Andrew Smith secured the bonus-point for Ireland after receiving a superb offload from Sean O’Brien.
Four minutes later, Ireland had their fifth and it came from some quick turnover ball which allowed hooker, Tom Stewart, to break away up the far touchline. Stewart had the 6’9″ Thomas Ahern on his shoulder and the lock received the ball to race away for another try.
With a 33-12 lead, the match was over as a contest but Scotland did hit back with a try through their out-half Chamberlain.
Replacement prop Ciaran Ryan powered over for a try from the back of a powerful Irish maul before Cameron Scott went over for a consolation score for the visitors.
Ireland: Oran McNulty; Ethan McIlroy, Dan Kelly, Hayden Hyde (Luis Faria ’50), Andrew Smith; Jack Crowley (Tim Corkery ’74), Lewis Finlay (Ben Murphy ’76); Charlie Ward (Ciaran Ryan ’58), Tom Stewart (John McKee ’58), Thomas Clarkson (Ryan McMahon ’75), Brian Deeny, Thomas Ahern (Joe McCarthy ’64), Sean O’Brien, Mark Hernan (Alexis Soroka ’74), David McCann
Replacements: John McKee, Ciaran Ryan, Ryan McMahon, Joe McCarthy, Alexis Soroka, Ben Murphy, Tim Corkery, Luis Faria
Scotland: Ollie Smith; Jacob Henry, Matthew Currie, Robbie McCallum, Jack Blain (Rufus McLean ’45); Nathan Chamberlain (Cameron Scott ’76), Roan Frostwick (Kyle McGhie ’65); Alex Maxwell (George Breese ’65), Ewan Ashman (Rory Jackson ’78), Dan Gamble, Kieran Watt, Cameron Henderson (Gregor Brown ’65), Jack Hill, Connor Boyle, Rory Darge.
Replacements: Rory Jackson, George Breese, Thomas Lambert, Jamie Campbell, Gregor Brown, Kyle McGhie, Cameron Scott, Rufus McLean