Ireland's slim hopes of World U20 semis crushed
Injury-ravaged Ireland will come no better than fifth at the World Rugby Under-20 Championships after failing to book a semi-final spot yesterday despite their 38-14 win over Italy.
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The chances of Noel McNamara's side securing a spot in the last four were always remote, needing a bonus-point win as well as a huge swing in points difference to overhaul either South Africa or New Zealand and for host nation Argentina's battle with France to go their way too.
The side, who beat England but lost to Australia prior to yesterday's victory, started with real intent and had their fourth try wrapped up before half-time, but Italy scored twice either side of the turn to drain the momentum from their charge and the margin of victory ultimately ended up at just 24 points.
That was never going to be enough to really put the pressure on New Zealand or South Africa, a fact that ultimately proved moot when hosts Argentina beat France in the middle set of the day's fixtures, the latter's late try-bonus score ensuring both sides would hit the magical mark of 11 points.
As their own game kicked off, though, all Ireland could do was control what was in front of them. They took the game to Italy early on, eschewing some kickable penalties in favour of going for the corner, a tactic that seemed sure to be effective given the distance Ben Healy could put on the ball.
With Italian indiscretions gifting them territory, it was no surprise when prop Michael Milne barged his way over from close range after just seven minutes.
Soon after, Ciaran Booth was lost to an apparently serious knee injury - the reckless angle and speed of the clearout was not deemed worthy of a card by the referee - as the toll of this tournament continued to rise for the Irish. Having left home without a quartet of key players, Booth looks sure to be the next invalided out of a tournament which has seen teams play three games in just nine days.
Ireland got on with the task, Healy stroking over the resulting penalty before centre Cormac Foley finished off a fine team move that featured good work from Ulster's Angus Kernohan.
It was Kernohan's fellow Ballymena native Azur Allison who went over next, marking his return to the side with a try again from close range.
The Six Nation Grand Slam winners have shown plenty of promise throughout this tournament with Rob Russell's deserved try just another example, and at 31-0 they seemed set to rack up a big tally to at least preserve their semi-final hopes a few more hours. But it wasn't to be, a penalty try and an Alessandro Fusco effort reining them back in before Ryan Baird had the final say.
Ireland will now go into the fifth-place play-off bracket as second seeds and face a rematch with England on Monday evening.