Out-half Sam Prendergast kicked 15 points, including a late match-winning penalty, as the Ireland Under-20s (sponsored by PwC) triumphed in dramatic circumstances in Verona.
Richie Murphy’s youngsters picked up their first U-20 Six Nations Summer Series points with a 37-36 bonus point win over England in a game which produced 10 tries.
Giving his reaction afterwards, Murphy said: “It was a really weird game, wasn’t it? We were 14-0 down early on and then put some really good stuff together to get up at half-time (28-19) which was very encouraging.
“We lost our way a bit in the second half, a few set piece penalties which put us under pressure and we then probably overplayed at our end which gave them access into our 22.
“With England having such a big pack, it’s hard to stop them getting over our line. But Sam then kicked a great penalty from the halfway line to get us home.”
The Ireland head coach was a place-kicker of high renown during his own playing days and first joined the Ireland senior set-up in 2013 as skills and kicking coach.
He was delighted to see Prendergast take on that decisive 78th-minute penalty and praised the younger brother of Connacht’s Cian Prendergast for the quality of his strike under immense pressure.
“We had a long range penalty kicker on the pitch as well in George Coomber, but Sam decided that he wanted it. He was obviously in the groove because he had been in the game,” explained Murphy.
I’m sure the one he missed earlier on probably upset him. It was great to give Sam that opportunity and to be fair to him it never looked like it was going anywhere else.
“What people won’t realise was that it was going into a bit of a breeze as well. It was great for him.
“He’s an Under-19 out-half, he’s come in, he’s worked really hard and stepped up and filled a hole as our two first choice out-halves are both out injured at the moment.”
The Ireland U-20s will find out their play-off opponents tomorrow when Pool B wraps up. It will be either Georgia or Scotland who face off in Verona before the tournament moves on to Treviso’s Stadio di Monigo for finals day next Tuesday.
Shorn of a number of Under-20 Grand Slam winners due to injury, a second successive victory for this Irish squad would be important in terms of laying the foundations for next year’s group.
“It’s a massive (win) for us. Any tournament like this, if you lose your first two games you’re very much up against it. At least now we’re looking forward to the last game,” admitted the Wicklow man.
“Yes, we finished bottom of our pool (behind France, England and unbeaten table toppers South Africa), but in a short tournament like this that can easily happen.
“We just want to try and go home with two wins from four which with the group that we have, with twelve Under-19s in the group, will be hugely beneficial for those guys for next year.”