I suspect that the Under 20s will have learnt more from fronting up to ultimate champions England and taking on New Zealand in Auckland in the play-off for third v fourth at the Junior World Championship despite their defeats than Emerging Ireland will have gained from their one-sided victories in the IRB Nations Cup against Russia and Uruguay. However you can only play the team in front of you and Romania did put it up to them in the final game in front of an expectant home crowd. It is always great to finish off a season with silverware before taking a well earned break.
Nothing should take away from the achievement of the Under 20s, getting to the semi-finals of the competition for the first time. Thanks to TG4, I really enjoyed getting to know and recognise the players after watching all five games. I was impressed with their attitude, commitment and skill set. Of course provincial bias meant I was particularly interested in the Munster contingent. I thought captain Jack O’Donoghue showed great leadership skills and always looked to put Ireland on the front foot, while Max Abbott and Rory Burke in the front row, Darragh Moloney in the second, backrow Diarmaid Dee plus Dan Goggin, Alex Wootton and Ryan Foley in the backline all contributed to the great team effort. The video highlights from their three pool games are in the previous blog post if you missed it. The Wales game was my favourite, as they overcame being down to 13 men for a period while the performance against Fiji in terrible weather conditions was also a great achievement. That qualified them for a semi-final against England who had beaten them by 33-9 in the Six Nations in February so they knew what they were up against! England had rested their front line players in their final pool game. Ireland had not had that luxury as they thought they would need a bonus point win against Fiji to progress – as they could not have known Wales would beat France – and in the bad weather that took time to secure.
I was up at 6am for the live broadcast on bank holiday Monday. Out of courtesy for my neighbours I did not sing along with the anthems but did wonder if Peter O’Mahony had given singing lessons to the Munster academy boys when I heard Alex Wootton, Rory Burke and Jack O’Donoghue blasting out “Ireland’s Call”. When the game started I quickly realised why England were favourites. They came at Ireland in waves, with super offloads, running great supporting lines. Their power and speed were awesome and the signs were ominous from an early stage. England dominated the scrum and line-out and Ireland could hardly get their hands on the ball. When they did England were up quickly to make their tackles. The first try came in the 8th minute, from Harry Sloan, either side of a penalty goal by Burns before Ireland’s first good break by Gaffney who almost got all the way to the line. However England got a second try through their loose head prop Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi to take a commanding 20-0 lead. Howard Packman added a third try before Ireland got on the scoreboard 27-3. A successful maul provided a fourth try for the defending champions (34-3). Ireland had to fight hard for every scrap of possession.
Despite being outplayed by England in the first half and losing their captain to a suspected concussion, Ireland did not let their heads drop but finished strongly, “winning” the second half, scoring two tries. Changes were made by both sides, Ireland’s set piece improved. England added three points through a drop goal before a clever kick through was chased, gathered and touched down by Garry Ringrose, one of the four finalists for Player of the Tournament. England struck back with a try off a well worked maul but Ireland’s dogged defence ensured they did not score again. Ireland’s second try came after some good carries by Heffernan and Timmons amongst others put Brewer in space and he passed to Wootton who showed a nice side step to score on 68′. That was the final score: 42-15. Did you find it irritating that the TG4 commentator had to say whenever he spoke of Wootton that he was “rugadh i Sasana”?
Cian Kelleher; Ciaran Gaffney, Garry Ringrose, Dan Goggin, Alex Wootton, Ross Byrne, Nick McCarthy, Peter Dooley, Max Abbott, Rory Burke, Stephen Gardiner, Ross Molony, Peadar Timmins, Frankie Taggart, Jack O’Donoghue (capt).
Replacements used: Rory Moloney for O’Donoghue (38 mins), Harrison Brewer for Goggin, Oisin Heffernan for Burke, Dylan Donnellan for Abbott (all half-time), Ryan Foley for McCarthy, Conor McKeon for Byrne (both 61), Denis Coulson for Dooley (67), Darragh Moloney for Gardiner (77).
New Zealand are always a tough opponent, especially in front of their home support but Ireland deserved their slight lead at half time (23-21) with a dominant forward display, using the rolling maul to advantage on several occasions. The lineout also went well and they even stole two of the New Zealanders throw. They turned over the ball too, ripping the ball in the tackle, trying the choke tackle, etc. However it was New Zealand who made the better linebreaks and scored the first try. Ross Byrne kept Ireland in it converting two penalty opportunities into points to bring the score to 7-6. New Zealand scored a second try but then Ireland were awarded a penalty try 14-13. The maul yielded another penalty and a sinbinning for New Zealand lock Tucker. However Ireland’s lead was short-lived as New Zealand scored their third try. Then Garry Ringrose made a good break, the ball hit Oisin Heffernan in the leg so he was ok to pick it up and drive over the line to regain the lead 23-21 when Byrne converted it. However New Zealand had been piling on the pressure coming up to the break and on the resumption laid siege to the Ireland line eventually reflecting their dominance on the scoreboard and they never let Ireland score again, finishing up 45-23 as Ireland tired. However again the attitude and commitment were obvious. The sin-binning of Cian Kelleher on 59′ did not help their cause in the 2nd half but some of these players will still qualify as Under 20’s next season and the experience gained will stand to them all in their careers. I expect we will see some play in the B&I Cup if not in the Pro12 league next season. Who impressed you?
Cian Kelleher; Ciaran Gaffney, Garry Ringrose, Harrison Brewer, Alex Wootton, Ross Byrne, Nick McCarthy, Peter Dooley, Dylan Donnellan, Oisin Heffernan, Darragh Moloney, Ross Molony, Peadar Timmins (Capt), Rory Molony, Frankie Taggart.
Replacements used: Stephen Gardiner for D Moloney (half-time), Dan Goggin for Wootton (53 mins), Rory Burke for Heffernan (55), Max Abbott for Donnellan (62), Ryan Foley for McCarthy (65), Conor McKeon for Byrne (67), Josh Murphy for R Moloney (73), Denis Coulson for Dooley (74).
Final comment – it was good to see a lot of focus given to concussion protocols at the JWC given recent high profile cases where the duty of care to the athlete was disregarded.
IRB NATIONS CUP
With eleven Munster players involved in the Emerging Ireland squad selected to compete in the IRB Nations Cup in Bucharest I was interested to see how they would get on in the three match tournament against Russia, Uruguay and Romania. All three countries are ranked in the Top 20 and Romania are in our pool for the RWC 2015 so it was an opportunity to lay down a marker and to end the season on a high. The experience of being in a touring party and testing yourself against internationals would be beneficial to some of the up and coming players like John Ryan who has played on both sides of the scrum for Munster and it gave Robin Copeland a chance to play with his future teammates in the Munster backrow – Dougall, O’Donnell and Butler.
Emerging Ireland v Russia was abandoned after 45 minutes due to a thunderstorm which you can hear at the end of the extended highlights clip below. They would surely have scored over a century had the game gone the full eighty minutes. Andrew Conway released Ian Keatley to score the first try and went on to score a hat-trick himself. Niall Annett the hooker blocked down and had to run about half the length of the pitch to score a try, he looked a bit tired after the effort! Andrew Conway’s third try was made by a length of the pitch run by the scrum half Paul Marshall after a turnover. Paul nearly made it to the line himself but was caught by the only defender to keep up so he passed to Conway who walked in under the posts. Only the referee had kept up with the action! Craig Gilroy made sure to get in on the scoring also, touching down beside the posts after another break from deep. Robin Copeland was next to score followed by Tommy O’Donnell and Paul Marshall did make it all the way for his own try shortly into the second half. The final try was scored by Craig Gilroy a minute later, (42′) and as you can hear the thunder roll, the referee tells players that they will leave the field until the lightning stops. However the game was never restarted and the result stood.
Team: Johne Murphy, Craig Gilroy, Eoin Griffin, Stuart McCloskey, Andrew Conway, Ian Keatley, Paul Marshall; Callum Black, Niall Annett, Michael Bent, Michael Kearney, David Foley, Dominic Ryan, Tommy O’Donnell, Robin Copeland.
Replacements: JJ Hanrahan, James Tracy, John Ryan, Billy Holland, Sean Dougall, Luke McGrath, Brendan Macken
Next up was Uruguay who looked like a Dublin GAA team in the blue and navy strip. While they scored first through a penalty and put up a better resistance than Russia it was still a very one-sided game. Ireland started with a Craig Gilroy try. A nice offload from Robin Copeland to Tommy O’Donnell who offloaded to #4 Michael Kearney resulted in the 2nd try. Paddy Butler then scored from the back of a maul. Halftime score was 22-3.
The forwards continued to dominate in the second half with a try off a scrum and a penalty try when a maul was pulled down. Billy Holland also got on the score sheet and Johne Murphy, captain for the day, showed his wrestling skills when his kick-ahead was chased and he forced the defender into touch, wrestling the ball off him to take a quick throw in to replacement scrum-half Marshall who scored the final try. It was good to see a continuation of the Munster experiment of playing both Ian Keatley and JJ Hanrahan together for the last quarter. The final score was 51-3. The full game is available on YouTube. Here are the extended highlights:
Team: Craig Gilroy; Johne Murphy, Brendan Macken, Eoin Griffin, Michael Allen; JJ Hanrahan, Luke McGrath; John Ryan, Bryan Byrne, Ricky Lutton, Michael Kearney, Billy Holland, Tommy O’Donnell, Sean Dougall, Paddy Butler.
Replacements: James Tracy, Callum Black, David Foley, Robin Copeland, Paul Marshall, Ian Keatley, Andrew Conway.
The final test was against Romania who were also unbeaten to determine who would win the IRB Nations Cup. An early penalty by Ian Keatley was cancelled out by a drop goal from Florin Vlaicu. It took almost half an hour for Ireland to make the breakthrough. James Tracy dived on a loose ball and secured possession for captain Dominic Ryan to score the first try a few phases later. Three minutes later Craig Gilroy finished off an attacking move which saw Ireland take a quick penalty and sweep downfield. Robin Copeland thought he had scored the third just before half time but there was a forward pass in the build-up so it was not awarded. Johne Murphy was in the sinbin at that time but Dave Foley had stolen a Romanian lineout to relieve the pressure on the Irish line and set up an attack.
In the opening minute of the second half Copeland did score after Billy Holland blocked down a kick and Copeland gathered the ball and side-stepped the last defender to score the third try. Keatley again successfully converted to bring the score to 24-3. Romania however did not allow the flood gates to open but continued to push hard for their own score, despite going down to 14 men when Conache was sinbinned for a shoulder charge on Craig Gilroy. Dave Foley was next in the sinbin. Johne Murphy joined the scrum to shore up defences. Romanian pressure eventually paid off in the 78th minute when the referee awarded a penalty try to Romania, the first try conceded by Ireland in the tournament. Two minutes later, after Ireland snatched up a knock-on and got the ball quickly to the wing, Andrew Conway was taken out by a shoulder charge. The referee again awarded a penalty try and Ian Keatley’s conversion was the final kick of the tournament as Ireland took the title with a comprehensive if hard-fought 31-10 victory. The extended highlights includes the bus arriving, the anthems and the presentation of the medals and trophy, including the Player of the Tournament Cup to Robin Copeland. The cameraman also enjoyed including crowd shots throughout the coverage. The full game is available on YouTube with Romanian commentary. The highlights have no commentary so you get to hear everything on the ref microphone which can be interesting. Watching it on the live stream there were regular signal / buffering issues but it was watchable.
Team: Johne Murphy; Craig Gilroy; Eoin Griffin; Stuart McCloskey; Andrew Conway; Ian Keatley; Paul Marshall; John Ryan; James Tracy; Michael Bent; Billy Holland; David Foley; Dominic Ryan; Sean Dougall; Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Bryan Byrne; Ricky Lutton; Paddy Butler; Tommy O’Donnell; Michael Heaney; JJ Hanrahan; Brendan Macken