Ireland Under-20 head coach Richie Murphy praised his side’s ‘character and grit’ to secure a late bonus point try in their 30-10 win over Australia in difficult conditions in Paarl.
On a pitch that was cutting up more and more as the game progressed, Ireland scored 19 unanswered points during the final 28 minutes to run out convincing winners over the Junior Wallabies.
Those tries from Mastercard player-of-the-match Brian Gleeson, captain Gus McCarthy and replacement Diarmuid Mangan, who struck in the 81st minute, supplemented James Nicholson’s first half effort and two Sam Prendergast penalties.
Having maintained their unbeaten form in South Africa, the Ireland U-20s (sponsored by PwC) are second in Pool B on eight points, level with new leaders England who beat Fiji 53-7. McCarthy and his team-mates face the Fijians next Tuesday.
Pleased with the game management and scrummaging in the wet weather, Murphy said: “I think we played intelligent rugby in the conditions. Everything is about field position and trying to trap the opposition down their end.
“It was nearly impossible to move the ball today so it’s about rolling up your sleeves and playing old-school rugby – one-out runners, driving mauls, big scrum and trying to put the opposition under pressure – and that was very satisfying.
“I just think we probably found our feet a little bit better (in the scrum). Early on in the game when a couple of scrums went down I thought the ref could have given us a penalty but he wanted to play, to get the ball away.
“But in the second half, we managed to keep the ball in and dominate that area of the game.”
Ireland’s second try-scoring bonus point of the tournament could prove crucial in their quest to clinch a semi-final spot next week. The U-20 Grand Slam champions have now scored four tries or more in eight of their last nine matches.
With the pack on top, Ireland were able to pin Australia back and dominate possession and territory entering the closing stages. There were some near misses with Paddy McCarthy and Charlie Irvine both held up, but they got their just reward in the end.
“We probably should have got that bonus point a little bit earlier,” admitted Murphy. “We had a few chances, but didn’t quite get over. We showed great character and great grit to eventually finish it off.
“That result gives us five points, and eight overall in the standings. It puts us in a really good position going into the last game against Fiji.”
It was a strong set-piece showing from Ireland’s starting front row of Paddy McCarthy, who switched to loosehead for the second round clash, Gus McCarthy and Old Belvedere’s Ronan Foxe, an impressive debutant at tighthead in the absence of the injured George Hadden.
The reserve forwards also made their presence felt, particularly during that push for the bonus point, and skipper McCarthy, having been replaced, was thrilled to see Mangan cross the whitewash in the dying seconds.
“That bonus point try was huge at the end. I was very nervous on the sideline there for the last five minutes,” admitted the UCD and Leinster Academy hooker.
“I think we got held up twice, so that would have been tough to come away from the game without a bonus point. That fourth try is going to be really, really huge for us going forward, and we’re absolutely delighted.”
While the Irish management will be hoping for dry weather next Tuesday and to avoid another ‘slugfest’, Murphy was happy with how his charges adapted and showed they can win in a different style to their more fluent Six Nations displays.
Central to that successful pragmatic approach today was hard-carrying number 8 Gleeson, who continually made metres, and Fintan Gunne and Prendergast who both kicked smartly out of hand and provided good direction from half-back as Ireland began to take control.
Commenting on some of the players who stood out, Murphy acknowledged: “Brian Gleeson was excellent. We’re lucky to have so many good back rowers over here at the moment. It’s just an embarrassment of riches at this particular age group in Irish Rugby.
“We showed some good maturity in our game. Fintan and Sam controlled the game quite well, found little bits of spaces and obviously created some good high-ball opportunities which were well contested.
“We didn’t give Australia much room to play. Rugby is a game where you have to be able to play in many different ways. Today we showed that we can roll up our sleeves when we need to, and manage the game properly.”
Meanwhile, Ulster duo Rory Telfer and James McNabney will appear before independent judicial committees on Saturday. Telfer’s yellow card late on against Australia was upgraded to a red, while McNabney was cited afterwards for a dangerous tackle.