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Future looks bright as U20s clinch Grand Slam triumph

 

Going over: Jonathan Wren crosses the whitewash in Wales
Going over: Jonathan Wren crosses the whitewash in Wales

By Cian Tracey

A grandstand finish fitting for the Grand Slam champions.

For just the second time, Ireland's U20s swept all before them to be crowned Six Nations winners in stunning fashion.

The future is in safe hands as Noel McNamara's outstanding young team showed remarkable resilience to beat Wales in Colwyn Bay for the first time.

Trailing 10-0 in the first half, Ireland fought back before they had to come from behind late in the second half to seal the win.

A try from Jonathan Wren on the stroke of half-time proved crucial, as was Dylan Tierney-Martin's just after the break, before two late scores from Colm Reilly and Thomas Clarkson sent the travelling fans into raptures.

In Scott Penny, Ireland had the best player on the pitch and the hugely talented flanker was ably assisted by John Hodnett.

Craig Casey and Harry Byrne were late withdrawals and even without their first-choice 9-10-12 axis, Ireland's strength in depth came to the fore once again.

Not for the first time, the Irish scrum was a powerful weapon as they made another massive statement against a big Welsh pack.

Ireland withstood the wave after wave of red jerseys until the 11th minute, when the hosts struck for the opening try through Aneurin Owen, which Cai Evans converted.

A second scrum penalty gave McNamara's side a much-needed foothold in the contest and when Ben Healy found a good touch in the corner, it was Ireland's turn to crank up the pressure.

The TMO came to Wales' aid twice in as many minutes as Penny was adjudged to have dotted the ball short of the whitewash.

Then, from the resulting scrum, Sean French powered towards the line, only for the TMO to again rule that the ball was shy of the line.

Just as it looked like Ireland would build on that, captain Charlie Ryan was pinged for not releasing on the halfway line and Evans stepped up to strike the ball between the posts.

But with a minute of the first half left, Wales switched off and Ireland's electric back-line clicked into gear.

It all came from Angus Kernohan, and the Ulster winger seized his opportunity as he danced his way around the Welsh defence and made 35m up field.

With the defence scrambling back to cover, Ireland quickly recycled the ball and moved it wide where Penny drew in the last defender before playing a lovely pass to Wren, who scored.

Healy made no mistake with the conversion to leave Ireland trailing 10-7 at the break.

Seven minutes after the restart Tierney-Martin showed great awareness to pick the ball at the base of the ruck and run to score.

Healy converted as Ireland went into a 14-10 lead.

Penny came to his side's rescue with an outstanding turnover deep inside his own '22'.

Wales then put themselves back in front as Jac Morgan scored with Evans nailing the conversion.

Trailing 17-14, Ireland were under all sorts of pressure when Wales cut through their defence and they had Kernohan to thank for forcing a massive turnover penalty close to his own line.

With time very much against them, Ireland pulled it out of the fire and it was worth the wait.

With the Welsh defence tiring, Reilly spotted a gap around the edge of the ruck and the scrum-half didn't need a second invitation to hare through to score, but the conversion was missed.

Ireland led 19-17 with seven minutes remaining and they expertly made sure of the victory when Clarkson powered over for a try that Flannery converted as Ireland wrote themselves into the history books as Grand Slam champions.

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Guinness Six Nations:

Twickenham, Today, 5.00pm

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