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Ireland U20s complete comeback win to seal Grand Slam success in Wales

Ireland U20s celebrate their Grand Slam success.
Ireland U20s celebrate their Grand Slam success.

By Cian Tracey

A grandstand finish fitting for the Grand Slam champions.

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For just the second time in this country's history, the Ireland U-20s swept all before them to be crowned Six Nations winners in stunning fashion.

The future of Irish Rugby 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 victory.

A try from Jonatahn Wren on the stroke of half time was cruciial as was Dylan Tierney-Martin's just after the break before two late scores from Colm Reilly and Thomas Clarkson send the sizeable travelling support into raptures.

The joyous scenes at full-time were filled with relief as Ireland dug deep to pull off a famous victory.

In Scott Penny, Ireland had the best player on the pitch and the hugely talented flanker was ably assisted by John Hodnett, who as he has done throughout the tournament, carried relentlessly.

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.

A couple of uncharacteristic errors early on didn't do much to help settle any nerves with Wren and Jake Flannery combing well in defence on the edge as Wales piled on the pressure.

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 Noel McNamara's side a much-needed foothold in the contest and when 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 just 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 – much to the frustration of the visitors.

Just as it looked like Ireland would build on that, captain Charlie Ryan was pinged for not releasing on the half-way line and Evens confidently stepped up to brilliantly strike the ball between the posts.

Trailing 10-0 after half an hour, Ireland's sloppiness was beginning to cost them, but they never deviated from the expansive game-plan that had serve them so well and eventually it paid off.

With a minute of the first half left, Wales switched off and Ireland's electric back-line clicked into gear and scored a sensational try.

It all came from Angus Kernohan, who was waiting for a chance to show off his searing pace throughout the campaign, and the Ulster winger seized his opportunity as he danced his way around the Welsh defence and made 35 metres up field.

With the defence scrambling back to cover, Ireland quickly recycled the ball and moved it wide where Penny cleverly drew in the last defender before playing a lovely pass to Wren, who did well to hold his width and score.

Healy made no mistake with the conversion to leave Ireland training by just three points (10-7) at the break.

The message at half-time would have been simple: more of the same and it didn't take McNamara's side to deliver on that.

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

Healy conversion from wide on the left bisected the uprights as Ireland went into a 14-10 lead for the first time in the game.

Wales were handed an immediate chance to hit back when Kernohan was penalised for not releasing but this time Evans' radar was off as he pushed the kick wide. It was a let off for Ireland.

Penny came to his side's rescue with an outstanding turnover deep inside his own 22 and from there, Ireland launched a superb counter attack.

They thought they were over for their third try after 54 minutes as French combined brilliantly with Kernohan who scored in the corner, only for the TMO to spot a slight forward pass in the build up from Liam Turner.

Wales from looking dead and buried to putting themselves back in front as just after the TMO came to their rescue for the third time, Jac Morgan scored their second try with Evans again adding the extras.

Trailing 17-14, Ireland's struggles at the breakdown continued and when they conceded another penalty, Evans again pointed the posts from half-way but his kicked drifted narrowly wide.

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 timing 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 the edge of the ruck and the scrum-half didn't need a second invitation to hare through to score.

With Healy off the pitch, Jake Flannery took on the kicking responsibilities and he was unlucky to see his well-struck conversion come back off the post.

Nevertheless, 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.

Wales U-20s – C Evans; T Lewis, T Thomas-Wheeler, A Owen (M Llewellyn 73), I Davies (R Conbeer 51); S Costelow, D Buckland; R Davies, D Lake (capt) (W Griffiths 51), B Warren (N English 73); E Scragg (J Price 51), T Williams; E Thomas (I Rhys Davies, 73), J Morgan, I Rees.

Ireland U-20s – J Flannery; A Kernohan, L Turner, S French, J Wren; B Healy (R Russell 63), C Foley (C Reilly 63); J Wycherley (C Reid 59), D Tierney-Martin (J McKee 63), T Clarkson; C Ryan, N Murray (R Baird 49); M Moloney, S Penny, J Hodnett (D McCann 71)


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