Cian Kelleher made a try-scoring debut for Emerging Ireland as they ran out convincing 33-7 winners over Rugby World Cup qualifiers Uruguay in Tbilisi this afternoon.
In humid conditions, Allen Clarke's youngsters grabbed three tries inside the first quarter hour. Andrew Conway, a late call-up for Matt Healy (stomach bug), John Cooney and Cian Kelleher all touched down, and a penalty try was added on the stroke of half-time for a 26-0 scoreline.
There was an inevitability about the result at that stage and after a rather disjointed third quarter, the resilient Uruguayans seized the momentum to score a penalty try while Kelleher was in the sin-bin.
However, the Leinster prospect returned to charge through midfield in the last minute and set up replacement lock Ben Marshall for a final try under the posts which Rory Scannell converted to complete his own eight-point tally.
Giving his reaction afterwards, Clarke said: “The two halves were total opposites. The first half we were pretty happy with what we produced, scoring some good tries in the process and the second half we weren't the same team.
“We needed to keep hold of the ball for more phases and respect the values of the game and we didn't do that. We have started the first half well in both games, we just need to look at our second half performance and address that ahead of our final match with Georgia.”
Their second successive bonus point victory, coupled with Georgia's surprise loss to Emerging Italy, means that Emerging Ireland will lift the Tbilisi Cup on Sunday no matter how they fare against the Georgians (kick-off 7pm local time/4pm Irish time).
An initial scrum penalty on halfway saw Emerging Ireland build some early pressure in today's second round tie. A good spell of carrying followed in the 22 before Noel Reid's skip pass gave winger Conway an easy run-in to the right of the posts.
Scannell converted the fifth-minute score and his half-back partner Cooney was next over the try-line, the Connacht scrum half sniping over from close range via a neat dummy and some forceful carrying beforehand by captain Rhys Ruddock and Billy Holland.
Direct running from Dave Heffernan preceded the next Irish try as quick ruck ball saw Reid and Eoin Griffin combine on the right to send the 20-year-old Kelleher over in the corner, evading a despairing tackle on his way.
Solid tackling from James Cronin and Frankie Taggart thwarted Uruguay during their first real attack, although an arm injury picked up by Ruddock forced his early exit.
A well-won ruck penalty by Griffin broke up a promising spell from the South Americans, and the first half continued at a high tempo with both defences tested out wide.
Uruguay's indiscipline became more of an issue just before the break, the Irish winning a scrum penalty and then Uruguay flanker Agustin Alonso saw yellow for a ruck infringement in his 22.
The Emerging Ireland pack got a shove on at the resulting scrum, winning a penalty and then a second one as referee Marius Mitrea awarded them a penalty try. Scannell converted with the last kick of the half.
Despite losing their discipline again on the resumption, Uruguay defended well in their 22 as the Irish side failed to profit from good approach work from Ruddock's replacement Jack Conan and Scannell.
Emerging Ireland's execution let them down during a rather error-strewn period, with a 'truck and trailer' penalty from a close-in lineout letting los Teros off the hook.
Scrum half Agustín Ormaechea sparked a prolonged spell of Uruguayan attacking in the Irish 22, with Emerging Ireland doing well to keep them out before Kelleher was binned for a deliberate knock-on in the 63rd minute.
Conan, the most prominent of the forwards along with Taggart and Andrew Browne, made a powerful break to lift the pressure and he also won a relieving penalty at a ruck close to the Irish line.
But Pablo Lemoine's men got the score that their efforts deserved when they got the upper hand in a close range scrum and earned a penalty try which Ormaechea converted.
Back came Emerging Ireland to notch a late try for the second game running, an excellent feed from Conan releasing Kelleher through a gap and his well-timed offload put the supporting Marshall over for a well-worked seven-pointer.
TIME LINE: 5 minutes – Emerging Ireland try: Andrew Conway – 5-0; conversion: Rory Scannell – 7-0; 10 mins – Emerging Ireland try: John Cooney – 12-0; conversion: missed by Rory Scannell – 12-0; 14 mins – Emerging Ireland try: Cian Kelleher – 17-0; conversion: Rory Scannell – 19-0; 38 mins – Uruguay yellow card: Agustin Alonso; 40+1 mins – Emerging Ireland try: Penalty try – 24-0; conversion: Rory Scannell – 26-0; Half-time – Emerging Ireland 26 Uruguay 0; 63 mins – Emerging Ireland yellow card: Cian Kelleher; 74 mins – Uruguay try: Penalty try – 26-5; conversion: Agustín Ormaechea – 26-7; 80+1 mins – Emerging Ireland try: Ben Marshall – 31-7; conversion: Rory Scannell – 33-7; Full-time – Emerging Ireland 33 Uruguay 7
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)