Ireland U20s pushed all the way by impressive Italy

The one-point win was in doubt right until the final whistle, as Ben O’Connor claimed Player of the Match in his home city.

Ireland U20 head coach Richie Murphy
Relieved: Ireland U20 head coach Richie Murphy
U20 Six Nations Round Two
Ireland 23-22 Italy

Ireland made it two wins from two in the U20 Six Nations Championships with a tough 23-22 victory over an inspired Italy at Virgin Media Park.

Tries from captain Evan O’Connell and man-of-the-match Ben O’Connor in the first half, and a late winner by Sean Edogbo gave Ireland victory as they moved second behind England in the table.

Following last week’s superb victory against France, Ireland failed to ignite in the opening 20 minutes, but that changed soon after.

Captain O’Connell touched down under the posts from a tap-penalty five-metres out, thanks to some help from Bryn Ward and Luke Murphy. Jack Murphy made no mistake from the tee to add the extra two.

The Italians were not planning on rolling over however, and just three minutes later had a try of their own.  After getting a huge drive at the scrum, fly-half Martino Pucciariello – son of ex-Munster prop Freddie - played a neat inside ball to Marco Scalabrin, and the winger raced through a gap to score. Pucciariello’s conversion reduced the margin to three.

A powerful maul put Ireland back on the front foot, before centre Wilhelm de Klerk made a half break, before finding a free hand to offload to O’Connor, and the full-back launched himself over to score. But the Italians bit back once more.

After Ireland made a mess of a restart Scalabrin collected the loose ball to run in and score his second try of the night. Pucciariello’s conversion reduced it to a one point game, before he stepped up on the stroke of half-time to land a penalty and put the visitors 17-15 up at the break.

Ireland retook the lead on the hour mark thanks to a Jack Murphy penalty. However, the Azzurri bit back once more on 66 minutes as they refused to give up the fight.

The Irish defence were caught narrow as Italy counter attacked and moved the ball wide right.

The impressive Scalabrin turned creator with a powerful run, before providing a beautiful offload to Piero Gritti, who dived over in the corner. Pucciariello missed with the conversion but the Italians led by four. But the hosts were to have the final say.

With six minutes remaining Hugh Gavin spun the ball onto the right flank where Edogbo hammered towards the try line, bulldozing Mirko Belloni to touch down. The conversion was just wide though, but it didn’t matter as the men in green held on to maintain their 100% start to this year’s competition.

Ireland U20:  O’Connor; Treacy, de Klerk, Gavin, McLaughlin; J.Murphy, Coffey; Usanov, Smyth, Boyd; Spicer, O’Connell (capt); Hopes, Ward, L.Murphy

Replacements: Sheahan, Howard, Bell, Corrigan, Edogbo, Brophy, Naughton, Graham

Italy U20:  Belloni;  Scalabrin, Zanandrea, Bozzo, Elettri; Pucciariello, Casilio; Pisani, Gasperini,  Gallorini;  Redondi, Gritti; Zucconi, Bellucci, Botturi

Replacements: Siciliano, Pellicciolli, Ascari, Milano, D’Alessandro, Jimenez, Fusari, de Villiers