- Written by Glenn Kelly
- rugby lighter
Attempt: O’Connell, O’Connor, Edogbo Cons: J. Murphy pen: J. Murphy 2
Attempt: Scalabrine 2, Gritty Cons: Puchariero 2 pen: Puchariero
Ireland maintained their perfect start to the Under-20 Six Nations Championship with a 23-22 victory over a inspired Italy at Musgrave Park.
First-half tries from captain Evan O’Connell and man of the match Ben O’Connor, followed by Sean Edogbo’s late goal, sealed victory for the hosts.
Italy’s goals came from the impressive Marco Scalabrine (2 goals) and Piero Gritti.
Ireland defeated world champions France last week to move into second place behind England in the championship standings.
It was a reality check for the Irish, who had rejected an Italian team that stuttered at times but fought back bravely and showed that their future was bright.
Following last week’s impressive win in Provence, the home fans were hoping for a quick start in Cork.
However, Jack Murphy’s penalty in the opening four minutes was all that Ireland needed to demonstrate their superiority in position and possession in the first 20 minutes.
With some help from Bryn Ward and Luke Murphy, captain O’Connell extended their lead by touching down under the posts from a tap penalty five meters out. Jack Murphy hit his tee shot without a miss and added two more points.
The visitors were not turned over and scored their own try just three minutes later.
After a powerful drive from the scrum, flyhalf Martino Pucciariello, the son of former Munster prop Freddie, played a superb inside ball to Scalabrine, and the winger hit the gap to score. Pucciariello’s conversion narrowed the gap to three points again.
The hosts, seemingly inspired by Italy’s reaction, immediately went on the attack and scored their second goal just after the half-hour mark.
A powerful maul put Ireland ahead, and center Wilhelm de Klerk broke half-way before finding his free hand and offloading it to O’Connor, with the full-back darting out himself to score.
Immediately after the restart the Irish caused chaos and Scalabran picked up a loose ball and ran in to score his second try of the night. Pucciariello’s conversion cut the game to just one point, but a penalty just before halftime gave the visitors a 17-15 lead going into halftime.
After a good start by the visitors in the second period, it was Ireland who took the lead again at the hour mark through a Jack Murphy penalty. However, the Azzurri did not give up and struck back in the 66th minute.
As Italy moved the ball wide to the right, Ireland’s defense was in trouble.
The impressive Scalabran turned creator with a powerful run, shaking off three tackles before giving Gritty a beautiful offload as he dived into the corner. Pucciariello missed the conversion, but the Italians led by four points.
With six minutes left, Hugh Gavin spun the ball to the right, where Edogbo drove it towards the tryline and bulldozed Mirko Belloni for a touchdown. The conversion just went wide, but it didn’t matter as the men in green clinched the victory.
Ireland U20: O’Connor; Tracy, de Klerk, Gavin, McLaughlin. J. Murphy, Coffey; Usanov, Smith, Boyd. Spicer, O’Connell (Capt.); Hopes, Ward, L. Murphy.
Replacement: Sheehan, Howard, Bell, Corrigan, Edogbo, Brophy, Norton, Graham.
Italy U20: Belloni. Scalabrine, Zanandrea, Bozzo, Elettri. Pucciariello, Casiglio. Pisani, Gasperini, Garolini. Redondi, Gritty.Zucconi, Bellucci, Botturi
Replacement: Siciliano, Pellicioli, Ascari, Milano, D’Alessandro, Jimenez, Fusari, de Villiers.