Ireland blow away South Africa to reach U20 Rugby World Championship final against France after emotional week

U20 World Rugby Championship semi-final: Ireland 31 South Africa 12

IRELAND’S U20s are on the verge of making history after they blew away hosts South Africa in Cape Town to reach the final of the World Rugby Championship.

The Irish youth team were last in the prestigious final in 2016 only to be beaten by host country England, and have never won the competition. Now they have the chance to put that right when they take on France – who beat England 52-31 in the second semi-final – in Friday’s decider.

It had been an emotional week for the Ireland squad after the sudden deaths of rugby coach Greig Oliver, father of panel scrumhalf Jack, and St Michael’s College duo Andrew O’Donnell and Max Wall, who were known to several members of the Irish squad, being themselves former students at St Michael’s.

Ireland have reacted commendably to the shock of those tragedies, beating Fiji on Tuesday to ensure that they topped their group, and they were clinical from the off in the suburb of Athlone yesterday, both in attack and defence.

Having led 7-0 at the end of a first period where they had to defend wave after wave of South African attack, Ireland moved through the gears with incredible maturity in the second-half to thoroughly dismantle the hosts.

A dominant scrum and maul gave them a great platform, while Sam Prendergast's vision in attack saw him put in James Nicholson for two tries. He also showed great nerve off the tee, kicking five out of five.

Up front, Paddy McCarthy was the best of the lot, while their ability to create one on one opportunities for Brian Gleeson paid off when he powered over for the second try.

Sam Berman, who was a late call-up to the squad last week, dazzled when he was introduced off the bench yesterday, deservingly adding a try, and must be in with a shout for Friday’s final at the Athlone Stadium.

Ireland coach Richie Murphy had high praise for the character of his charges after yesterday’s victory: "I thought South Africa came out very strong and threw a lot of stuff at us. Our boys showed great character to stay in the fight," he told RTÉ.

"System-wise, I thought we did quite well, and we were delighted to be able to get out of that onslaught of pressure and soak it all up, and sneak in at half-time seven points up, which I thought was a massive turning point in the game.

"We were in a good place considering we hadn't really fired as many shots as we would have liked. A lot of that was due to South Africa being really good. Their setpiece was functioning well in the first half and that was getting them on the front foot.

“It's quite hard to tackle some of those big boys coming around the corners, but in fairness to our boys, we stuck at it and it gave is the opportunity,” Murphy added.

"In the second-half, we conceded early on but went straight back down and got a try off Brian Gleeson coming around off the lineout, which put us in a really good place."