The Connacht Under-20s created history at Dubarry Park on Friday as they secured their first IRFU Interprovincial Championship title at the grade since 2001. Michael Silke reports on their thrilling final win over Munster.
IRFU UNDER-20 INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP RESULTS:
ROUND 1 –
MUNSTER 9 LEINSTER 13, Musgrave Park
ULSTER 19 CONNACHT 22, Ravenhill
ROUND 2 –
LEINSTER 16 CONNACHT 19, Donnybrook
ULSTER 17 MUNSTER 9, Deramore Park
ROUND 3 –
CONNACHT 32 MUNSTER 18, Dubarry Park
LEINSTER 33 ULSTER 13, Donnybrook
A magnificent first half display against a strong breeze set Connacht on their way to a deserved IRFU Under-20 Interprovincial championship title triumph.
Nigel Carolan’s side made it three wins out of three, comprehensively defeating Munster 32-18 to clinch the crown at Dubarry Park in Athlone.
A hat-trick of tries by full-back Shane Layden at his new club Buccaneers’ home ground, which was in perfect condition, inspired Connacht as they took a 21-13 lead into the break.
Although Ireland Under-20 international JJ Hanrahan had opened the scoring with a second minute penalty for Munster, Connacht gradually settled to the task at hand.
The westerners were rewarded for a fine spell of pressure with their opening try in the 14th minute. Layden was up in support to touch down wide on the left. Tadhg Leader added a splendid conversion.
Almost immediately from the restart, Munster opted for a long kick ahead but, in the considerable wind, the ball went dead giving Connacht a scrum on halfway.
Jack Carty made an initial snipe from this set piece and Layden was at his shoulder to take possession and blasted his way through for a superb 17th minute try which Leader also converted to put Connacht into a very promising 14-3 lead.
But, within five minutes, Munster were back in the game when Miah Cronin fastened onto a loose ball when Connacht lost possession in a tackle on their own 10-metre line and the visiting skipper got to the line for a try which Hanrahan converted.
However, just four minutes later, that man Layden was touching down to complete his hat-trick of tries, and this one was the best of the bunch.
Out-half Carty made a smashing break that split the Munster cover and the hugely impressive Layden romped away for a stunning try at the posts.
Leader duly added the conversion while Hanrahan gave Munster some hope with a penalty just before the half-time whistle at which stage Connacht were comfortable eight-point leaders.
Munster defended doggedly on the restart and while Connacht’s tempo understandably dropped somewhat, Leader extended their advantage with a 54th minute penalty.
On the hour mark, Connacht sealed the match and indeed the title when their best sustained and patient spell of pressure of the half yielded a try wide on the right.
Conor Finn outfielded his opposite number to catch Carty’s teasing chip and ground the ball for the bonus point try. Leader missed the difficult conversion but the centre thumped over a long 68th minute penalty to put Connacht in an unassailable 32-13 lead.
Munster, out-thought and outfought throughout, never stopped trying and, with home substitute Andrew Keating sin-binned, replacement Kevin Slater won the chase for a grubber kick to grab a late consolation try.
This was a terrific team performance by Connacht and the endeavours of the talented back-line were truly a joy to witness, especially in that opening period.
Connacht were less flamboyant on the turnover but their defensive resilience and organisation meant that Munster rarely threatened.
Having won their two previous fixtures away to Ulster and Leinster, Connacht were relentless in their quest for glory and did not let the occasion get to them. There can be no doubting their pedigree or merit in winning this coveted title.
After the game, IRFU Senior Vice-President and passionate Connacht man Billy Glynn was particularly proud to present the U-20 Interprovincial Championship Perpetual Cup to the victorious captain Brian Moylett.
Speaking about the campaign, Connacht Under-20 coach and Academy Manager Nigel Carolan said: “We’re delighted with the win and the manner in which we won the series. This hasn’t happened overnight, this team has been five years in the making, both technically and physically.
“We’ve proven that we can play a fantastic brand of rugby, unfortunatley we left it late against Ulster and Leinster to prove we were the better side but today we started playing early and got the result we wanted in the manner we wanted.
“I thought the backs played particularly well, Jack Carty, Tadhg Leader, Robbie Henshaw and in particular Shane Layden, who scored three tries, have to be commended.
“I thought Danny Qualter had a fantastic game up front. He claimed restarts, kick-offs and was outstanding in the loose but full credit has to go to the entire squad for this performance.”
CONNACHT U-20: Shane Layden (Buccaneers); Conor Finn (Buccaneers), Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers), Tadhg Leader (Galwegians), Callum Boland (Buccaneers); Jack Carty (Buccaneers), Kieran Marmion (Corinthians); Paul Griffin (Galwegians), Callum O’Connell (Exiles), Jamie Dever (Westport), Conor Kindregan (Monivea), Daniel Qualter (Buccaneers), Aaron Conneely (Corinthians), Will O’Brien (Newbridge), Brian Moylett (Lansdowne) (capt).
Replacements used: Andrew Keating (Navan) for J Dever, Eoin Tarmey (Galwegians) for Kindregan (both 54 mins), Matt Dever (Exiles) for Finn, Isaac O’Grady (Unattached) for O’Brien (both 61), Denis O’Dwyer (Corinthians) for O’Connell, Jack Vaughn (Connemara) for Boland, Marcus Walsh (Unattached) for Marmion (all 74), Jamie Dever (Wesport) for Conneely (76, blood sub).
MUNSTER U-20: Garrett O’Suilleabhain (UCC); Seamus Glynn (PBC Cork), Rory Scannell (PBC Cork), JJ Hanrahan (UL Bohemians), Shaun Horgan (Garryowen); Eamon Mills (Dolphin), Brian Haugh (Young Munster); Brian Scott (UCC), James Rael (Garryowen), Niall Horan (Crescent Comprehensive College), Shane Buckley (Garryowen), Jack Donovan (Old Crescent), Miah Cronin (Highfield) (capt), Cathal Gallagher (UCC), Ryan Murphy (Dolphin).
Replacements used: Tom Ryan (Garryowen) for O’Suilleabhain (28 mins), Eoghan Cross for Cronin (49), Luke Cahill (UCC) for Donovan, Neil Cronin (Garryowen) for Haugh (both 70), Cian O’Donnell (UCC) for Horan (76).
Referee: Barry O’Keeffe (IRFU)