Given the short turnaround between fixtures, the Ireland Under-20s (sponsored by PwC) will quickly turn the page to next Thursday’s must-win showdown with Pool B leaders Australia in Paarl.
While head coach Richie Murphy was pleased with Ireland’s attacking performance in scoring six tries against England in heavy underfoot conditions, he is hoping the 34-all draw is not an opportunity missed.
Murphy’s side ended their World Rugby U-20 Championship opener without red-carded centre Hugh Cooney, but despite leaking a penalty and a converted try during the final 14 minutes, they hung on to put three points on the board.
Their potential route to the semi-final stage will be trickier now, especially with a number of opening bonus point wins in the other pools, yet they will be confident of building on today’s result – as they did through their Grand Slam-winning run.
Giving his reaction afterwards, Murphy said: “I thought we played some really good rugby, to score six tries like that is quite hard to do.
“The pitch is quite heavy and it probably doesn’t suit us as well as our guys would like but I thought they stuck in the fight really well when we went behind in the second half and came back really strong.
“The one thing that we would have probably liked to have done better is to get out of our end a bit easier. We probably didn’t kick as well as we’d have liked.”
There were a number of twists and turns across the 80 minutes, given the supporters present and those watching from afar a real rollercoaster ride. Two years into the job, Murphy is well used to these thrilling high-scoring contests.
Speaking about the momentum swings, he added: “Under-20s rugby has a tendency to do that. Defences are always on the back foot.
“I thought some decisions went against us today but it is what it is, and we’ll regroup and look at the game and move on. I suppose the big thing for us is that we are in the same position as we were before the game.
“We’ve got three points out of it and we are in a really good place in relation to trying to go forward. We still have a great opportunity to go through.”
Meanwhile, captain Gus McCarthy was disappointed that Ireland failed to see out the result after moving into a 34-24 lead in the 66th minute. England flanker Greg Fisilau was also in the sin bin at the time.
England coach Mark Mapletoft praised Ireland for being ‘incredibly ruthless when they were five metres from our line with their pick-and-go’. Sam Prendergast, George Hadden and James McNabney all crossed from close range during the first half.
They added three more tries after that, as Mastercard player-of-the-match Fintan Gunne’s classy kick teed up the bonus point score for Ruadhan Quinn, and Henry McErlean and Cooney also got over via assists from Prendergast and John Devine respectively.
Remaining positive with the Ireland U-20s now unbeaten in eight competitive matches, McCarthy commented: “Our goal was to win the match but it is not over. We’ll move on now and focus on next week.
“We were expecting a very physical game from the English lads, they are big boys and we got exactly that. When we played the rugby we wanted to play, we were able to score great tries and play some great rugby.
“But when England put the pressure on us and were getting up in our faces, they did a really good job of stopping us and they were then able to get the ball.
“They’re very dangerous in loose play, they have got some very good players and they punished us on a few occasions so we’ll have t go away and work on that and fix it and improve for Australia next week which will be a huge game.”
Ever-influential out-half Prendergast picked up a try and had some bright moments with ball in hand, but he was frustrated to miss his first four kicks at goal, leaving eight points behind him.
McCarthy knows that his Leinster colleague will bounce back strongly, as he always does. Sharpening up their kicking out of hand and from the tee is an area for improvement against Australia, as is Ireland’s discipline.
“I think our discipline really let us down,” admitted the Ireland skipper. “I think we gave away a lot more penalties than the English boys did. We gave them easy access into our half which ended up hurting us.
“Obviously the kicks are important but Sam is a great player and commands our team in such a good way. Everyone misses the odd kick, it is on us as a team to do better. I don’t think it was anything to do with the kicks that we didn’t win.”
Australia had to recover from a red card of their own, losing prop Marley Pearce in the second half before a strong finish earned them a 46-37 win over a battling Fiji team in Stellenbosch. They outscored the Fijians by seven tries to four.