Ireland Under-20 head coach Nigel Carolan pointed to a number of missed scoring opportunities as he reflected on his side’s 19-14 loss to England at Donnybrook.
The most notable of the missed chances came in the first half where Stephen Fitzgerald fumbled a cross-field kick from Ross Byrne close to the try-line, and a loose pass from Billy Dardis saw a dangerous Garry Ringrose-inspired attack break down.
“We certainly had enough chances in the game. Firstly it was a bruising encounter. I thought we had to match up physically and we struggled at times. England got a foothold in the game through their one on one physical encounters. They didn’t do anything that was particularly fancy. We just didn’t deal with it particularly well,” admitted Nigel Carolan, whose side also failed to profit from a late bout of pressure in the English 22.
“We were indisciplined in defensive rucks and gave England some good field position out of it. They were quite clinical. Every time they go into our half they seemed to get a return from it.
“Whereas every time we got into a scoring position in their half we left 50% of them behind us. It’s what it came down to it at the end the day.”
With Carolan’s charges leading 9-6 at half-time, they switched off early in the second half in allowing English replacement full-back Piers O’Conor to go clean through and score in the left corner after he had gathered a garryowen from Byrne near halfway.
A brilliant break through the middle from hooker Zack McCall made the initial incision for Ireland’s only try of the night. That created the space for Byrne to send man-of-the-match Ringrose on another silky run down the right. He dummied and fixed the defence before sending winger Fitzgerald over in the corner.
Carolan added: “I thought we were quite ambitious and thought our ambition was paying dividends in terms of creating opportunities which got us into a position where we had potential to score. It comes down to the fine margins, the cross-field kick…maybe 9 times out of 10 it might work.
“But every time we failed or where we could have had a try, maybe got a return of a penalty, it kept England in the game and 10 minutes before half-time we were under unbelievable pressure on our line.
“We still had the character and the belief to get back out there again. But the first 15 minutes after half-time we were under unbelievable pressure and we might have lacked a little bit of ideas of how to play and as a last resort a kick that we were hoping to get a return on, the score on the other side. Just a little bit unfortunate and putting pressure on ourselves.”
After a review session next Tuesday, some of the Ireland Under-20 players will be released back to their Ulster Bank League clubs to get game-time next weekend.
Carolan insists his young squad are learning all the time. The physical nature of the English side was cause for some focus but the Irish team created the chances they needed to. They just did not take them.
“These guys are learning. They are learning about the game. We discussed it. We had a good game-plan. We knew we had to negate the physical dominance of what England had. They had plan ‘A’ which was pretty much route one and we struggled to deal with it at times.
“I can’t fault our ambition. Through our ambition we created some real opportunities. The learning is involved there. It’s how do you close out that, how do you take your chances and that comes with experience. There is a composure involved, accuracy, patience and we will certainly learn from it.
“When you look at the amount of chances we created, we just didn’t take them. That is what we are disappointed about. We have to dust ourselves off. It’s one game at a time but they are hurting physically and they are hurting mentally on that one.”
The result means Ireland and England, who both have two wins, are now only separated by scoring difference at the top of the U-20 RBS 6 Nations table – England have +60, Ireland have +44. Scotland are also in the mix with two victories, their latest a 45-0 home hammering of Italy. It throws the tournament wide open with Carolan’s charges facing a trip to Wales next up on Friday, March 13.
“There is a lot of expectation around this team because they are ambitious. They want to play an open style of rugby and you can see that with the huge crowd that came out. Maybe the shackles of the ‘Grand Slam’ might be off us now. We will just focus on the next game.
“We will look at how we can create opportunities, how we can break Wales down and throw the kitchen sink at it and hopefully we will score more than we concede. We came so close. We just failed to take our chances. It is as simple as that.”