Captain Eoin de Buitléar and Chris Cosgrave scored the only tries as the Ireland Combined Academies team fell to a 45-10 defeat in their second game against the Italia Selezione Under-23s.
IRELAND COMBINED ACADEMIES SERIES – MATCH 2: Friday, December 15
ITALIA SELEZIONE U-23 45 IRELAND COMBINED ACADEMIES 10, Stadio Nando Capra, Parma
Scorers: Italia Selezione U-23: Tries: Filippo Lazzarin 2, Ratko Jelic, Matthias Douglas, Tommaso Di Bartolomeo, Andrea Cuoghi, Filippo Drago; Cons: Giacomo Da Re 5
Ireland Combined Academies: Tries: Eoin de Buitléar, Chris Cosgrave
HT: Italia Selezione U-23 12 Ireland Combined Academies 5
Testing themselves against older and more experienced players will certainly stand to the PwC-sponsored Combined Academies squad, but this was a disappointing result as the more cohesive Italian side took their tries well and ran out convincing winners.
It was a tightly-contested first half in Parma with Irish captain de Buitléar touching down from a 21st-minute lineout maul to split tries from Filippo Lazzarin and Ratko Jelic.
Leading 12-5 at half-time, Italy’s Selezione Under-23s notched three tries inside the second half’s opening 14 minutes as Matthias Douglas, fellow winger Lazzarin and replacement hooker Tommaso Di Bartolomeo all crossed the whitewash.
Despite replacement Cosgrave hitting back in the 65th minute, the hosts used their bigger bench to finish strongly. Senior international Giacomo Da Re converted closing efforts from Andrea Cuoghi and Filippo Drago.
The four-match series will conclude after Christmas, with the Neil Doak-coached Combined Academies side playing their Italian opponents in Dublin (venue to be confirmed) on Sunday, January 14, and Friday, January 19.
Led by head coach Doak, alongside assistant coaches Kieran Hallett, Andrew Browne and Tommy O’Donnell, there were eight personnel changes to the Combined Academies team that lost last Sunday’s opener, 45-33.
Two late enforced switches meant Ireland Under-19-capped duo Jake O’Riordan and Mark Lee came in to start at scrum half and lock respectively, while the unfortunate Shane Mallon picked up an early injury and had to be replaced five minutes in.
It was an even enough start, with Lee busy around the pitch and tighthead Fiachna Barrett ripping possession back in a tackle. The visitors scrambled well in defence after the Italians had worked Douglas into some space on the left wing.
However, the Azzurri outfit soon used a penalty to threaten through their maul before Jelic passed to the blindside where Lazzarin had a simple finish in the corner, making it 5-0 in the 17th minute.
The Ireland youngsters pressed through their maul, and Ben Brownlee was held up in the next phase, but a subsequent lineout drive, well executed off a throw to Diarmuid Mangan, saw de Buitléar pile over for the levelling try.
Frustratingly, a couple of missed tackles allowed Giuliano Avaca to counter from near halfway, running back a kick at pace and feeding the supporting Jelic to score on the right. Da Re, who lined out at out-half, converted.
Better maul defence from the Combined Academies, coupled with strong carries from Lorcan McLoughlin and Mangan, pushed the Italians back out of a try-scoring range, past the half hour mark.
Aitzol King also blocked a kick and found touch with a kick of his own, and when Italy countered, Mangan pinched possession back. Lee also stole a lineout, but despite centres Brownlee and Hugh Cooney gaining ground as the Irish lifted the tempo in attack, a late try eluded them.
An early second half turnover saw Giuliano Avaca find grass with his kick out to the left, and speedster Douglas, a try scorer last time out, burst through to collect the ball and raid in behind the posts. Da Re converted for a 19-5 lead.
When Douglas came hunting again off first-phase ball, Mallon’s replacement Oran McNulty tackled him into touch. The Combined Academies got back on the front foot thanks to King’s gathering of an O’Riordan box-kick, and a determined follow-up carry from Rainey’s Lee.
However, they were stung by an opportunist fourth Italian try, which Lazzarin grounded after Damiano Mazza had hacked on a James Humphreys pass that had gone loose. The extras were curled over by the left-footed Da Re.
Brownlee’s man-and-ball tackle forced a knock-on from Drago, leading to a threatening Irish break that almost created a try in the left corner for Cooney. Two quick penalty calls went against the visitors, though, and a well-directed maul saw Di Bartolomeo cross in the 54th minute.
Launching infield off a lineout shortly afterwards, the Combined Academies put more pace on the ball, getting over the gain-line through McLoughlin and Daniel Okeke. They drew a deliberate knock-on from Italian replacement Riccardo Andreoli who was promptly sin-binned.
The resulting maul took Doak’s young guns closer before O’Riordan broke to the left to send Cosgrave over in the corner. Crucially though, the 14-man Italians scored straight from the restart to extend their lead to 28 points (38-10).
Okeke took down the kick and carried well, but Samuele Locatelli won turnover ball on the ground, setting up fellow replacement Cuoghi to dribble a kick through, regather the ball and nip over from the edge of the Irish 22. Da Re landed his fourth successful conversion.
A charge-down from Charlie Irvine sparked a promising attacking spell from the visitors, with Italy leaking a series of penalties and losing Bradley Henderson to the bin. Their maul defence eventually won the battle, though.
With Irish handling errors inviting the Italians forward late on, centre Drago exploited a gap to dart over out wide on the right. Da Re drew the conversion inside the near post to complete his 10-point haul and confirm a 35-point winning margin.
ITALIA SELEZIONE U-23: Giuliano Avaca (Mogliano Veneto Rugby); Matthias Douglas (Mogliano Veneto Rugby), Filippo Drago (Benetton Rugby), Damiano Mazza (Zebre Parma), Filippo Lazzarin (Valorugby Emilia); Giacomo Da Re (Benetton Rugby), Ratko Jelic (Zebre Parma); Samuele Taddei (HBS Colorno 1975), Lapo Frangini (Mogliano Veneto Rugby/Accademia Benetton Rugby), Valerio Bizzotto (Rugby Petrarca), Enrico Pontarini (Rangers Rugby Vicenza), Alessandro Filoni (Sitav Rugby Lyons/Accademia Zebre Parma), Giulio Marini (Mogliano Veneto Rugby), Luca Andreani (Zebre Parma), Davide Ruggeri (Zebre Parma) (capt).
Replacements used: Mattia Mazzanti (Valorugby Emilia) for Bizzotto, Tommaso Di Bartolomeo (Zebre Parma) for Frangini, Destiny Aminu (Mogliano Veneto Rugby) for Taddei, Riccardo Andreoli (Ranger Rugby Vicenza/Accademia Benetton Rugby) for Filoni, Samuele Locatelli (Rugby Viadana 1970) for Pontarini, Andrea Cuoghi (Rugby Lyons) for Jelic, Alessandro Gesi (HBS Colorno 1975/Accademia Zebre Parma) for Douglas, Bradley Henderson (Sitav Rugby Lyons/Accademia Zebre Parma) for Ruggeri, Mattia Ferrarin (Mogliano Veneto Rugby) for G Avaca, Cristian Stoian (Fiamme Oro Rugby) for Andreani, Arturo Fusari (Fiamme Oro Rugby) for Mazza.
IRELAND COMBINED ACADEMIES: Shane Mallon (Galwegians RFC/Connacht); Aitzol King (Clontarf FC/Leinster), Hugh Cooney (Clontarf FC/Leinster), Ben Brownlee (UCD RFC/Leinster), Andrew Osborne (UCD RFC/Leinster); James Humphreys (Queen’s University Belfast RFC/Ulster), Jake O’Riordan (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster); Mark Donnelly (Cork Constitution FC/Munster), Eoin de Buitléar (Galway Corinthians RFC/Connacht) (capt), Fiachna Barrett (Galway Corinthians RFC/Connacht), Mark Lee (Rainey RFC/Ulster), Charlie Irvine (Queen’s University Belfast RFC/Ulster), Diarmuid Mangan (UCD RFC/Leinster), Daniel Okeke (Shannon RFC/Munster), Lorcan McLoughlin (Queen’s University Belfast RFC/Ulster).
Replacements used: Oran McNulty (Garryowen FC/Connacht) for Mallon, Chris Cosgrave (UCD RFC/Leinster) for Osborne, Cameron Doak (City of Armagh RFC/Ulster) for Donnelly, Zac Solomon (Banbridge RFC/Ulster) for de Buitléar, Temi Lasisi (Lansdowne FC/Leinster) for Barrett, de Buitléar for McLoughlin.
Referee: Alberto Favaro (FIR)