Nathan Doak made it third time lucky to snatch victory at the death for the Ireland Under-18 Schools side (sponsored by PwC) as he nailed the penalty that secured a 20-17 triumph over Italy U-18s in Caerphilly.
The final game on day 1 of the Under-18 Six Nations Festival in Wales looked set to end in a draw until the Italians, who hit back from a 17-5 deficit to level the scores with a brace of second half tries, gave away a string of penalties as the pressure mounted.
Up stepped Nathan Doak, son of former Ulster scrum half and head coach Neil Doak, on each occasion, but his first two attempts failed to hit the mark. The first one, from 40 metres, crept just under the bar, while his second shot from close range hit the upright.
But the talented Wallace High School half-back made no mistake with his third attempt as he gave Peter Smyth's charges a hard-fought success that followed earlier wins by Scotland over England and France against Wales.
Ireland's two tries were grounded by outstanding second row Tom Ahern (St. Augustine's, Dungarvan) and St. Michael's college winger Andrew Smith, adding to the 10 points from the boot of Doak who switched to out-half in the second half.
The resilient Italians at least had the honour of outscoring Ireland by three tries to two thanks to scores from winger Albert Batista and the centre pairing of Michael Mba and captain Matteo Moscardi.
The Ireland U-18 Schools outfit started brightly and Doak slotted a straightforward penalty after a mere three minutes. But Italy soon struck back with arguably the try of the round through Batista. Lively scrum half Ratko Jelic made a break from the base of the ruck before offloading to out-half Paolo Garbisi who put Batista over with a lovely floating pass.
Led by captain John McKee, Ireland responded with a try of their own from close range by Ahern, 10 minutes in. McKee and his forwards were camped on the opposition try-line and, after going through numerous phases, the athletic lock brushed off two defenders to score at the corner.
As well as taking the initial lead with that Batista try, the Italians enjoyed the lion's share of territory and possession in the first half and managed to exert a large amount of pressure. But, despite their forwards enjoying the upper hand, they found it difficult to convert territory into points.
Indeed, the speedy Smith extended the Irish lead on the stroke of half-time with a stunning try that started from inside his own 22. With Italy pushing hard for a score, the ball was turned over and offloaded to Boyne Under-16 centre Karl Martin. The St. Mary's Drogheda pupil raced up the touchline before drawing his man to send Smith sprinting the final 40 metres to the posts. Doak's conversion meant Ireland held a 17-5 lead at the interval.
Smyth's youngsters began the second period brightly, but just as they looked to be getting on top they were hit with two tries in as many minutes. Outside centre Mba began the Italian fight-back when he scored from close range after some neat handling.
From the restart, Ireland regathered the ball and tried to play wide. Up popped Italian skipper Moscardi in the middle of the field and he picked off a pass before sprinting to the line. Out-half Garbisi had hit the upright with his earlier conversion attempt, but made no mistake this time to level the sides at 17-all.
It was nip and tuck from then on in a tightly-contested closing half that last 47 minutes on the clock. The Italians had plenty of chances to seal the deal, but with the Irish forwards tackling like demons, it was McKee and his team-mates who held their nerve and ran off with the spoils as Doak finally punished Mba for a 59th-minute high tackle in his 22.
Referee: James O'Brien (England)