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Ireland U-20s Beat Scots To Set Up Championship Decider

Ireland U-20s Beat Scots To Set Up Championship Decider

Shane Layden, Luke McGrath and Jack Conan shared out the tries as the Ireland Under-20s, sponsored by PwC, maintained their winning form at Dubarry Park on Friday.

Ireland were catapulted ahead by a tremendous solo try from full-back Shane Layden, but could only add a single penalty from captain Paddy Jackson before the break.

A scrappy third quarter ensued, however Jackson kept the scoreboard ticking over, finishing with 11 points, and tries from man-of-the-match Luke McGrath and Jack Conan sealed it for the Irish.

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Mike Ruddock’s youngsters benefited from a dominant set piece early on and with half-backs Jackson and McGrath providing direction, the Scots were under immediate pressure.

Layden took centre stage again at his home club Buccaneers, darting through for an unconverted try out wide on the left.

The nippy full-back chipped over the top of the Scottish defence and collected on the bounce before shrugging off a tackle and moving through the gears to score in the corner.

Layden popped up in attack shortly afterwards to combine with Foster Horan. Scotland held out but they did concede a penalty to Jackson who tapped over from in front of the posts for 8-0.

Hooker James Rael and lock Iain Henderson were among the busiest of the home forwards, while the speedy back-three of Layden, Conor Finn and Horan continued to pose problems out wide.

A series of turnovers and aggressive tackling underpinned the Irish effort, with the skilful JJ Hanrahan again showing some nice touches with ball in hand.

But Scotland did threaten from turnover ball, a clever kick downfield almost unleashing winger Michael Crawley for a try on the left but McGrath got back to cover the danger.

Scotland’s number 10 Harry Leonard missed his first shot at the posts, failing to get a good strike in the 27th minute after solid work from his forwards.

The second quarter was a listless, stop-start one and blighted by handling errors and sloppy passages with Ireland’s only other scoring opportunity being a long range penalty effort from Jackson which dropped well short.

A terrific aerial take from McGrath and good foraging at the breakdown from tireless flanker Conor Gilsenan preceded Jackson’s second successful penalty, five minutes into the second half.

Jackson then punished another ruck infringement from the visitors, moving Ireland 14-0 ahead just two minutes later with a crisp strike from the right.

Returning centre Mark Bennett, who plays his rugby for Clermont Auvergne, was the main threat in the visitors’ back-line, but time and again they failed to piece together an end product.

Ireland lacked accuracy in clearing out at the ruck and the Scots prospered in that area, forcing mistakes until the home side, with Des Merrey and Jordan Coghlan introduced up front, tightened their grip on the game in the final quarter.

Number 8 Conan popped the ball to McGrath from a scrum on the short side and the scrum half broke a tackle and hared over for a deserved try which Jackson converted.

Maintaining a high work-rate as the rain came down, a lineout steal from replacement Tadhg Beirne quickly set up Ireland for another attacking raid but Jackson’s cross-field kick was just beyond Finn’s reach.

Territorially, Ireland were on top again and a snipe from McGrath's replacement Kieran Marmion ended with Henderson lunging for the line, with the big lock inches short of a try.

The third Irish try eventually came with six minutes remaining. Conan tore away from the back of a close-in scrum and used his strength to barge over past a couple of defenders.

Cathal Marsh, who replaced Jackson, missed the conversion and despite some late adventurous runs from deep neither side looked like scoring again.

Ireland’s fourth successive victory of the campaign, coupled with England's 12-8 defeat to France, means they are the only team left in the Championship who could win the Grand Slam.

Ruddock's side have a two-point lead at the top of the table heading into next weekend's final round of matches, with England and France, who both have six points, their only remaining challengers for the title.

The English have a superior points scoring difference of +118, with Ireland on +51 and the French on +26.

It sets up a fascinating final clash between England and Ireland at Adams Park next Friday night (kick-off 8.05pm), with the game being televised live on Sky Sports 2/HD2.

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)