12 Dec, 14:42
Prop Cian Healy is expected to miss the start of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations after undergoing surgery on his injured ankle on Wednesday.
IRELAND UNDER-20s 44 SCOTLAND UNDER-20s 15, Dubarry Park
Scorers: Ireland U-20s: Tries: Nevin Spence 2, Andrew Conway 2, Tiernan O'Halloran; Cons: James McKinney 5; Pens: James McKinney 3
Scotland U-20s: Pens: Alex Blair 5
After this fourth win of the Championship, the Ireland Under-20s, sponsored by PricewaterhouseCoopers, sit proudly at the top of the table on eight points, with a +85 points differential.
The only way Allen Clarke's charges can be denied the title - Ireland's first at this grade since the 2007 Grand Slam - would be if second-placed England score a 47-point win away to France on Sunday.
There was no first minute try, like last weekend against Wales, but Ireland once again made an impressive start in their final ESB International match of the campaign.
They looked for space through the middle and monster prop Stewart Maguire fended off a tackler before the hosts enjoyed a sustained period in and around the Scottish 22.
In the sixth minute, James McKinney landed his first penalty from a right-sided position inside the 22. The Queen's University clubman went on to kick 19 points, with two other efforts hitting the post.
Scotland responded strongly with out-half Alex Blair, the youngest brother of senior international Mike Blair, firing over two penalties in quick succession, with his second from far out giving the visitors a tenth minute lead.
A good kick chase created a penalty chance for McKinney but his effort bounced back off the right hand post.
But Ireland were beginning to threaten with ball in hand. Space opened up for recalled winger Simon Zebo to carve his way through the Scottish midfield and he dinked a kick towards the left corner, only for Blair to track back and rescue his side.
The well-drilled Irish side made the breakthrough on 16 minutes. Great hands from McKinney, who was involved twice as he popped the ball to Eoin Griffin and took the return on the burst, saw the number 10 send the supporting Nevin Spence past two tacklers and over close to the posts.
It was a terrific team score really, and it had its roots in some hard graft by team captain Rhys Ruddock, lock David O'Callaghan and number 8 Patrick Butler as the trio carried forward at close quarters.
McKinney landed the conversion and the Scots tried their best to hit back. Unfortunately for the visiting fans, their charges were held at arm's length by a physical stronger Irish pack and a snap drop goal attempt by lock Robert Harley summed up their lack of ideas.
Ireland pressed on and were brilliantly clinical when given a sniff of the try-line. They almost got over when centre Spence blazed away on a diagonal run, following a scissors move with winger Tiernan O'Halloran.
Ruddock and Griffin kept the move going and there was some excellent link play from scrum half John Cooney, before Scotland conceded a penalty which McKinney knocked over for 13-6.
He added another from 35 metres out as the powerful Irish scrum forced a turnover and a penalty.
The pressure was beginning to tell on the Scots and they leaked a second try in the 31st minute, with flanker Dominic Ryan snaffling possession on the deck and Cooney passing for Spence to skip past two tacklers and glide over on the left.
McKinney's successful conversion was cancelled out by a third penalty from Blair, but Ireland finished the first half in full command, leading 30-9.
Full-back Andrew Conway scored the hosts' third try, on the cusp of half-time, using his pace to beat the cover and get in behind the posts.
The set-up was just as good as all-action centre Griffin jinked his way forward on the right before popping the ball to the advancing Conway, whose line of attack was just right.
Scotland hit back in the early stages of the second half, with a ruck infringement from the Irish setting up Blair for his fourth penalty success.
But Ireland's attacking quality was in evidence again, five minutes in, when O'Halloran sniped down the right and McKinney was the link man again as he popped the ball up for Conway to sidestep a final defender and cross in behind the posts, with McKinney converting again.
Both sides had to regroup and and keep their focus after an unfortunate eight-minute stoppage for a head/neck injury sustained by Scottish lock Matthew Reid.
The Heriot's youngster was tended to by both medical teams, put onto a stretcher with his neck in a brace and brought to hospital, with everyone's best wishes for a safe recovery.
Ireland endured a stick patch then as Butler was sin-binned for a ruck offence in the 47th minute, with referee Mathieu Raynal losing his patience with the amount of infringements.
Blair landed the resulting kick to cut the gap to 37-15 but Ireland's lead was never in any danger. Zebo and RTE/ESB International man-of-the-match Spence led an exciting counter attack which gave McKinney another kickable chance, but his effort was off target.
Scotland went down to 14 players when their skipper Stuart McInally was yellow carded for going offside at a ruck.
Just a minute later, the Connacht-capped O'Halloran dummied and muscled his way over past two tacklers for Ireland's fifth and final try of the night.
McKinney knocked the conversion over with an excellent strike from the right. Scoring chances were free and far between as the game petered out in the final quarter, with play locked between the 22-metre lines.
McKinney watched a 62nd minute penalty attempt bounce back off the left hand post and the ever dangerous Zebo, who thrived in broken play, was inches away from notching the hosts' sixth try as he chased a kick through.
Along with their finishing, Ireland's kicking out of hand - including some pinpoint chip kicks and dinks to the corners - was excellent, and they maintained a high standard of overall play throughout as they claimed a deserved Triple Crown, with the Championship title likely to follow on Sunday.
IRELAND U-20: Andrew Conway (Blackrock College/Leinster); Tiernan O'Halloran (Galwegians/Connacht), Eoin Griffin (Corinthians/Connacht), Nevin Spence (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Simon Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster); James McKinney (Queen's University/Ulster), John Cooney (UCD/Leinster); Jack O'Connell (Lansdowne/Leinster), Niall Annett (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Stewart Maguire (Old Belvedere/Leinster), David O'Callaghan (UCC/Munster), Ben Marshall (UCD/Leinster), Rhys Ruddock (UCD/Leinster) (capt), Dominic Ryan (Lansdowne/Leinster), Patrick Butler (Shannon/Munster).
Replacements used: Bryan Cagney (UCC/Munster) for Maguire, Brian Hayes (Cork Constitution/Munster) for Marshall (both 68 mins), Brendan Macken (Blackrock/Leinster) for O'Halloran (76), Gareth Quinn McDonogh (Shannon/Munster) for McKinney, Risteard Byrne (UCD/Leinster) for Annett, Michael Heaney (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster) for Cooney, Robin O'Sullivan (Bective Rangers/Leinster) for Ryan (all 79).
SCOTLAND U-20: Tom Brown (Edinburgh Accies); Oliver Grove (Worcester Warriors), James Johnstone (Currie), Alex Dunbar (Selkirk), Dougie Fife (Currie); Alex Blair (Edinburgh Accies), Alex Black (Leeds Carnegie); Nicky Little (Hawick), Alun Walker (Currie), Colin Phillips (Stewart's Melville), Matthew Reid (Heriot's), Robert Harley (West of Scotland), Michael Maltman (Heriot's), David Denton (Edinburgh Accies), Stuart McInally (Watsonians) (capt).
Replacements used: Duncan Weir (Glasgow Hawks) for Dunbar, Kris Hamilton (Caithness) for Black (both half-time), George Hunter (Glasgow Hawks) for Phillips (46 mins), Callum Stidston-Nott (London Scottish) for Reid (53), Matthew Scott (Currie) for Johnstone (64), Lindsey Gibson (Melrose) (73). Not used: Aaron Hall (Newcastle Falcons).
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
|Ireland U20s Score Card|
|Scotland U20s Score Card|