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Ireland U-20s Fight Back To Draw With Leinster Development XV

Ireland U-20s Fight Back To Draw With Leinster Development XV

Evan O'Connell tries to get past his former Ireland Under-20 team-mate, Hugh Cooney, during today's challenge match at Energia Park ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

The Ireland Under-20s (sponsored by PwC) staged a late comeback to earn a 28-all draw with a strong Leinster Development XV at Energia Park today.

UNDER-20 CHALLENGE MATCH: Friday, January 5

Scorers: Leinster Development XV: Tries: John McKee, Fintan Gunne, Davy Colbert, Tom O’Riordan; Cons: Charlie Tector 3, Tom Larke
Ireland Under-20s: Tries: Henry Walker, Stephen Kiely, Luke Murphy, Alex Usanov; Cons: Jack Murphy 2, Sean Naughton 2
HT: Leinster Development XV 21 Ireland Under-20s 0

It was game of two halves with the Leinster team, which contained a dozen senior-capped players in the starting line-up, establishing a 21-0 half-time lead with Charlie Tector pulling the strings from out-half.

Alongside him was Fintan Gunne, one of the Ireland Under-20 heroes from last season, who impressed in a try-scoring performance, but Richie Murphy’s youngsters upped the tempo during the final quarter to finish strongly.

In the Ireland Under-20s’ last warm-up match before the start of the U-20 Six Nations Championship next month, they made it four tries each with winger Stephen Kiely running in the pick of their scores.

The pre-tournament report card from their warm-up window reads one win, one draw, and one defeat. There are plenty of positives to take forward as the U-20 Six Nations squad announcement, scheduled for Tuesday, January 16, draws ever closer.

The Ireland U-20s open their Six Nations campaign against France in Aix-en-Provence on Saturday, February 3, before hosting Italy at Musgrave Park the following Friday. Tickets for their home games are available to purchase here from Ticketmaster.ie.

Murphy’s charges will certainly be battle-hardened from the festive period, which saw them overcome Italy 35-29, lose 29-24 to the Munster Development side last week, and then mount an impressive fight-back to share the spoils with the Leinster selection.

The warm-up run of fixtures has given Murphy and his fellow coaches the opportunity to see different players in action, test out possible combinations, and ultimately get a feel for this mostly new crop of Under-20 players.

A Tector break in the third minute got the Leinster attack into gear, and they used their forwards to edge them closer. Their patience was rewarded when highly-rated hooker McKee crashed over from close range for the opening try.

Coached by Adam Griggs, Leinster were looking a bit more settled than their opponents, continuing to build phases in attack. They extended their lead in the 18th minute after a penalty gave them an attacking platform inside the Ireland U-20s’ 22.

A solid driving maul preceded a powerful Hugh Cooney carry that was stopped a couple of metres short of the whitewash. In classic scrum half fashion, Gunne sniped over for a try which Tector again converted, making it 14-0.

The provincial outfit were coming out on top in the physicality stakes. They had a notable advantage in the scrum. Props Michael Milne and Rory McGuire, packing down with McKee at a combined 341kgs, showed their know-how and URC experience.

Dublin University full-back Davy Colbert, brought on as a replacement for the injured Chris Cosgrave, scored in the left corner on the stroke of half-time. With Tector adding the extras, Griggs’ men led 21-0 at the break.

Captained by Munster Academy lock Evan O’Connell, one of the returning players from the successful 2022/23 campaign, the Ireland U-20s came out firing in the second half.

The maul was their weapon of choice, winning them a penalty and entry into the red zone.  They went to the corner again, this time a lot closer to the try-line. The lineout drive picked up from where it left off, leading to Ulster Academy hooker Henry Walker touching down.

It was not long before the Ireland U-20s doubled their tally. The back-line was in sync, with Jack Murphy releasing UCD centre Wilhelm de Klerk, who has been a standout performer over the three warm-up games.

He made a strong carry before putting Kiely away for a well-crafted try in the left corner. Murphy landed back-to-back conversions, reducing the deficit to seven points (21-14).

However, Tom O’Riordan, a recent Energia All-Ireland League debutant with UCD, got the scoreboard moving again for the Leinster Development XV. He muscled his way over the whitewash, and fellow replacement Tom Larke tagged on a straightforward conversion.

There was a steady flow of replacements made during the second half. Replacements Luke Murphy and Finn Treacy brought a fresh energy to the Ireland U-20 effort. They went up a gear during the closing stages, with Munster-capped winger Ben O’Connor seeing much more of the ball.

Luke Murphy, who won European silver with the Ireland U-18 Sevens team last summer, and Alex Usanov scored two pick-and-go tries late on. Sean Naughton supplied two cleanly-struck conversions to bring the teams level.

Connacht Academy recruit Treacy was grasping his chance to impress with both hands. He made a charging run that got the Ireland U-20s back into opposition territory. He passed to his support on the right wing, but Colbert tackled Sean Condon into touch.

LEINSTER DEVELOPMENT XV: Chris Cosgrave; Aitzol King, Charlie Sheridan, Hugh Cooney, Andrew Osborne; Charlie Tector, Fintan Gunne; Michael Milne, John McKee, Rory McGuire, Brian Deeny, Conor O’Tighearnaigh, Richard Whelan, Paul Wilson, Diarmuid Mangan.

Replacements: Gus McCarthy, Ben Howard, Temi Lasisi, Micheal Colreavy, Tadhg Brophy, Tom Larke, Jules Fenelon, Davy Colbert, Luke Kritzinger, Tom Stewart, Tom O’Riordan.

IRELAND U-20: Hugo McLaughlin (Lansdowne FC/Leinster); Ben O’Connor (UCC RFC/Munster), Wilhelm de Klerk (UCD RFC/Leinster), Hugh Gavin (Galwegians RFC/Connacht), Stephen Kiely (Shannon RFC/Munster); Jack Murphy (Clontarf FC/Leinster), Oliver Coffey (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster); Alex Usanov (Clontarf FC/Leinster), Henry Walker (Queen’s University Belfast RFC/Ulster), Andrew Sparrow (UCD RFC/Leinster), Evan O’Connell (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster) (capt), Alan Spicer (UCD RFC/Leinster), Joe Hopes (Queen’s University Belfast RFC/Ulster), Josh Stevens (Queen’s University Belfast RFC/Ulster), Sean Edogbo (UCC RFC/Munster).

Replacements: Danny Sheahan (Cork Constitution FC/Munster), Jacob Boyd (Queen’s University Belfast RFC/Ulster), Patreece Bell (Sale Sharks/IQ Rugby), Bryn Ward (Ballynahinch RFC/Ulster), Jacob Sheahan (UCC RFC/Munster), Jake O’Riordan (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Sean Naughton (Galway Corinthians RFC/Connacht), Finn Treacy (Galwegians RFC/Connacht), Sean Condon (UCC RFC/Munster), Luke Murphy (Shannon RFC/Munster), Mikey Yarr (Lansdowne FC/Leinster), Ethan Graham (Ballynahinch RFC/Ulster), Flynn Longstaff (Queen’s University RFC/Ulster).

Referee: Robbie Jenkinson (IRFU)