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Ireland U-20s Go Down Fighting

Ireland U-20s Go Down Fighting

The Ireland Under-20s put in a brave performance but ultimately the Baby ‘Boks’ size and power proved too strong as they ran out 42-26 winners in the sides’ second Pool C match of the IRB Junior World Championship

Ireland got off to a good start early on with the back-line showing their intent. Early pressure resulted in a penalty which out-half James McKinney duly slotted, two minutes in.

South Africa struck back immediately and some powerful running from Johan Goosen at number 10 set the tempo for their game, before winger Francois Venter crashed over. Goosen added the conversion for a 7-3 lead.

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Another break from Goosen resulted in a penalty which he converted from a long way out to stretch the advantage to seven points after seven minutes.

The South African youngsters continued to launch their powerful runners but Ireland absorbed the pressure and were quick to capitalise on any mistakes by looking to counter attack.

McKinney landed another penalty in the 14th minute, but again South Africa struck back quickly through Goosen's boot.

Ireland went close after James Tracy offloaded to set Brendan Macken free. Macken's pass found the strong-running Eoin McKeon who drove the ball close. From the ensuing ruck, Tiernan O'Halloran caught a long pass and looked to put Andrew Conway through – only for the Leinster starlet to knock on.

But apenalty advantage saw McKinney add another three points to close the gap for the Irish to 13-9.

The South African pack, almost 39 kilos heavier than Ireland, exerted a lot of pressure at the scrum and the breakdown and the Baby 'Boks extended their lead after a series of drives at the line which resulted in a second try for Venter. Goosen again added the extras.

Ireland kept in touch with another penalty from the boot of McKinney just a minute later as the tit-for-tat scoring continued and five minutes after that, South Africa pounced again.

A scrum against the head and some more powerful driving led to gigantic lock Eben Etzebeth crashing over. Goosen's successful conversion put 15 points between the sides.

Mike Ruddock's charges refused to lie down and a piece of magic from Conway saw him dance past four defenders from an O'Halloran offload to dot down. McKinney added the conversion to leave the half-time score at 27-19 to South Africa.

The second half saw the error count climb as the humid conditions made for a slippery ball and the open game took its toll on the players. Both sides continued to run hard and from deep whenever possible.

Conway again showed his class with a nippy break but Ireland could not capitalise as his cross-field kick for Craig Gilroy hung in the air.

Ruddock brought on some replacements with Luke Marshall and David Doyle both coming on to bolster the Irish effort.

A huge snap drop goal from Goosen seemed to revive South Africa but it was not until the 65th minute that they managed to secure the bonus point. A series of good passes saw left winger Wandile Mjekevu score in the corner.

Ireland again looked to attack and a good break from Marshall and Gilroy was carried on by replacement hooker Doyle. The resulting passes across the line sent Conway around his man for a deserved try which replacement out-half Paddy Jackson converted.

Ireland were within touching distance at 35-26 and attacked gamely, though at times loosely and the Baby 'Boks countered well as the final whistle neared. A try from their captain Arno Botha in injury-time and the conversion from Goosen put an end to Ireland's brave efforts.

Niall Annett and his team-mates will move on to face Scotland in the final pool game on Saturday, still gunning for a place in the second tier play-offs.

Meanwhile, Conway's brace of tries have moved him into joint second place in the list of all-time top try scorers in the Junior World Championship. He has touched down eight times in his seven tournament appearances.

Speaking after the game, Mike Ruddock said: “I thought we were matching them right until the end, until that last try, which was a bit of a heartbreaker.

“We've played two of the best rugby nations around and we certainly haven't discredited ourselves. We've played quite well and really put it up to the both of them.

“South Africa, I'm sure if you go into their changing room, they'll know they've been in a battle, England know they've been in a battle.

“South Africa had to dig deep again today to beat us. We're showing glimpses of really good rugby but making basic errors to let the other team back in.”

Referee: Jonathan White (New Zealand)