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Grand Slam Finish For Elwood’s Under-20s

Grand Slam Finish For Elwood’s Under-20s

The St. Patrick’s Day celebrations kicked off early in Benevento this afternoon as Ireland’s Under-20s produced a stunning comeback to beat Italy 36-25 and clinch an unprecedented Grand Slam and Six Nations championship double.

2007 UNDER-20 SIX NATIONS: Friday, March 16

ITALY 25 IRELAND 36, Stadio Santa Colomba, Benevento

Scorers: Italy: Tries: Paul Derbyshire, Natale Duca 2; Cons: Davide Duca 2; Pens: Davide Duca 2
Ireland: Tries: Cian Healy, Felix Jones, Darren Cave, Ian Keatley, Paul O’Donohoe; Cons: Keatley 4; Pen: Keatley

For pictures of the historic Grand Slam win, click here.

Eric Elwood’s side came from 20-7 down to beat the Italians, who are fielding an U-21 side in this competition, and lift the title. Italy’s powerful pack set up early tries for back rowers Paul Derbyshire and Natale Duca. Centre Davide Duca kicked ten points.

But the Irish, who had Thomas Anderson and Conor McInerney sin-binned in either half, bounced back before half-time when full-back Felix Jones dotted down. Second half tries from Darren Cave, Ian Keatley and Conor O’Donohoe, adding to Cian Healy’s 16th-minute score, eased the visitors to a memorable victory and capped off a day to remember for Irish underage rugby.

In Elwood’s first season as an international coach, his players have done him proud, digging deep to secure tight wins over Wales (17-15), France (19-16) and England (13-6) before scoring nine tries in the past week to see off the Scots and Italians.

Considering that last year’s Irish Under-21s lose four of their five games in the Six Nations, 2007 has produced a remarkable turnaround in fortunes.

Skippered by inspirational number 8 David Pollock, the Irish made a surprisingly sluggish start in Benevento as the hosts’ beefy forward unit took control.

Centre Duca, Italy’s 17-point hero in their win over Wales last weekend, landed a close range penalty before the Italian forwards rumbled forward and produced a pushover score for their captain Derbyshire. Duca tagged on the conversion for a 10-0 lead.

Keith EarlsSome spritely play from scrum half O’Donohoe and winger Keith Earls, who was man of the match in Scotland seven days ago, helped get Ireland within range for a reply and prop Healy obliged by muscling over close to the posts.

Keatley converted but the home side had a stranglehold on possession for the next quarter-hour and they pushed into a 20-7 lead. A well-judged rolling maul led to flanker Duca’s try which was converted and the Italians garnered another three points after Ireland lost blindside Anderson to the sin-bin.

Thirteen points in arrears, the Irish failed to panic and crucially grabbed their second try on the stroke of half-time. A quick tap penalty paved the way for Seapoint clubman Jones to grab his third try of the tournament.

That unconverted score, allied to a pep talk from Elwood and his assistant Dan McFarland, had a galvanising effect on the Irish and they proceeded to dominate the opening twenty minutes of the second half to put the fading Italians to the sword.

As the visitors’ superior fitness began to tell, lightning quick centre Cave dashed past two would-be tacklers, close to the Irish ten-metre line, and romped over for a brilliantly-taken try. The Belfast Harlequins star, who was scoring for the second successive game, was part of last year’s U-21 squad and is still only 19.

Keatley converted, cutting the gap to 20-19, and the UCD out-half got amongst the tries himself on 49 minutes when he ran in a seven-pointer from all of 70 yards out after gobbling up an interception.

Following a Keatley penalty, it was was the turn of his half-back partner O’Donohoe to cross the whitewash next as he picked up off the back of a ruck and hared through a gap to gleefully touch down, crowing a big week for the UCD Arts student who has been named as one of Leinster’s additional players for the Heineken Cup’s knock-out stages.

Incredibly, with just fifteen minutes gone in the half, the Irish were 36-20 ahead and coasting to their fifth win of the championship.

Things did get a bit sticky in the closing stages when hard-working lock McInerney saw yellow and Italian number 6 Duca got over for his second try but there was no denying Elwood’s young charges who can look back on their campaign with great pride.

ITALY U-21: Giulio Rubini (Overmach Cariparma); Michele Sepe (AlmavivA UR Capitolina), Alberto Sgarbi (Benetton Treviso), Davide Duca (Consiag I Cavalieri Prato), Gilberto Pavan (Overmach Cariparma); Paolo Buso (Cammi Calvisano), Fabio Semenzato (Benetton Treviso); Plinio Sciamanna (Arix Viadana), Davide Giazzon (Marchiol San Marco), Alberto De Marchi (Overmach Cariparma), Alberto Saccardo (Carrera Petrarca Padova), Luca Beccaris (Cammi Calvisano), Natale Duca (Arix Viadana), Filippo Cristiano (Cammi Calvisano), Paul Derbyshire (Rolly Gran Parma) (capt).

Replacements used: Francesco Minto (Overmach Cariparma) for Derbyshire (28-30 mins, blood sub), Lorenzo Giovanchelli (Carrera Petrarca Padova) for Giazzon (50), Tito Tebaldi (Rolly Gran Parma) for G Pavan (54), Minto for Beccaris (58), Nicola Gatto (Carrera Petrarca Padova) for De Marchi (62), Enrico Ceccato II (Benetton Treviso) for Sciamanna (66), Riccardo Pavan (Overmach Cariparma) for Sepe, Fabio Flammini (Mantovani Pol. Lazio 1927) for Saccardo (both 71).

IRELAND U-20: Felix Jones (Seapoint/Leinster); Shane Monahan (Dublin University/Leinster), Darren Cave (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Aidan Wynne (Buccaneers/Connacht), Keith Earls (Thomond/Munster); Ian Keatley (UCD/Leinster), Paul O’Donohoe (UCD/Leinster); Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Richard Sweeney (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Jamie Hagan (Greystones/Leinster), Conor McInerney (UCD/Leinster), Andrew Browne (Galwegians/Connacht), Thomas Anderson (Dungannon/Ulster), Kevin Sheahan (UCD/Leinster), David Pollock (QUB/Ulster) (capt).

Replacements used: Kyle Tonetti (Blackrock College/Leinster) for Cave (36-40+2 mins, blood sub), Ruaidhri Murphy (Lansdowne/Leinster) for Hagan (55), Neilus Keogh (UCC/Munster) for Browne (67), Eoghan Grace (Shannon/Munster) for Sheahan, David Drake (Ballymena/Ulster) for O’Donohoe (both 70), Tonetti for Monahan (75), Ger Slattery (Young Munster/Munster) for Sweeney (80+1), Niall O’Connor (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster) for Keatley (80+3).

IrishRugby.ie man of the match: Darren Cave (Ireland)
Referee: David Rosich (France)

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