The Ireland Under-20s finished their U-20 RBS 6 Nations campaign with a third successive win, beating Scotland 26-18 at Donnybrook tonight.
Nigel Carolan's side came back from an early 6-0 deficit with tries from Electric Ireland man-of-the-match Adam McBurney and fellow Ulsterman Jacob Stockdale cutting the gap to 13-12 by half-time.
Ireland punished the injury-hit Scots with a Will Connors score and a penalty try and although George Taylor responded, the hosts – helped by a dominant scrum – kept their noses in front.
The result saw the Irish youngsters finish third in the table, behind second-placed France and Grand Slam winners Wales, for an improvement of two places from last year's U-20 Six Nations.
Their three-match winning run – something Ireland have not achieved at this age-grade since 2012 – will give them plenty of confidence to take into June's World Rugby U-20 Championship in Manchester where they have Wales, New Zealand and Georgia for company in Pool A.
Scotland's ball retention was impressive early on, as a knock-on from James Bollard invited them forward. Out-half Adam Hastings' fifth-minute penalty duly opened the scoring.
Ireland failed to profit from a catch and drive effort outside the Scottish 22, and Hastings, son of the legendary Gavin Hastings, clipped over his second place-kick on the quarter hour after a well-controlled maul.
Although the Irish defence continued to be tested, a breakout led by Ulster winger Stockdale promised much before Scottish full-back and captain Tom Galbraith covered the danger in his 22.
Stockdale soon found a hole in midfield, nonetheless, setting up a penalty that saw Ireland turn down a first kick at goal. Cillian Gallagher claimed the subsequent lineout, skipper James Ryan exploded off the side to get within a couple of metres and then quick ball saw McBurney – supported by Greg Jones – barge over just to the right of the posts.
Brett Connon converted and despite some further improvements to Ireland's game, Scotland struck for their opening try with 30 minutes on the clock, a lovely inside pass from livewire scrum half Hugh Fraser sending winger Darcy Graham past two tacklers and in behind the posts.
The extras were added by Hastings who blundered when kicking the ball dead with 40 minutes showing on the stadium clock. Unfortunately for him, there were still five minutes left on Welsh referee Dan Jones' watch and Ireland took full advantage.
From the lineout, an excellent pass from Stephen Kerins created an opening for Ireland on the left as good hands from Johnny McPhillips, Shane Daly and Connon played in Stockdale for a sucker-punch score.
The conversion proved too difficult for full-back Connon, but he had a simple kick five minutes into the second half after flanker Connors had lunged in under the posts.
The Irish forwards provided the platform, winning a scrum penalty and probing from a lineout in the left corner. Replacement Andrew Porter and Kerins both had cuts at the line before Connors proved unstoppable from a close-in ruck.
With Hastings off, Rory Hutchinson had a poor penalty miss and a McBurney ruck penalty win, followed by a strong burst from centre Daly, got Ireland right back into scoring range.
Blindside Gallagher was held up just short at the end of Ireland's best attacking spell of the night, with Ryan and eager replacements Max Deegan and Porter all carrying with great intent.
Injuries certainly disrupted the Scottish side and with momentum built through successive five-metre scrums, referee Jones awarded the hosts a penalty try with Scotland tighthead Callum Sheldon seeing yellow. Connon's conversion gave Ireland a double scores lead – 26-13.
Showing bags of resolve, 14-man Scotland hammered away at the Irish defence. It was Connacht prop Conan O'Donnell who came up with an important ruck poach, as the home front row continued to catch the eye.
However, Ireland were guilty of some loose kicking. On the counter, Hutchinson's excellent offload in midfield set the wheels in motion for his centre partner Taylor to power over in the right corner, with a big hand-off on Kerins along the way.
Hutchinson pulled his conversion attempt well wide but suddenly it was all Scotland again in the closing stages, Ireland needing some strong competing at ruck time by replacement Peter Claffey to win a clearing penalty.
Either side of another penalty-winning scrum, there were bulldozing carries from Ryan and Power and a pass from replacement John Poland that went forward ended Ireland's hopes of adding to their lead in the dying minutes.
TIME LINE: 5 minutes – Scotland penalty: Adam Hastings – 0-3; 16 mins – Scotland penalty: Adam Hastings – 0-6; 23 mins – Ireland try: Adam McBurney – 5-6; conversion: Brett Connon – 7-6; 30 mins – Scotland try: Darcy Graham – 7-11; conversion: Adam Hastings – 7-13; 36 mins – Ireland try: Jacob Stockdale – 12-13; conversion: missed by Brett Connon – 12-13; Half-time – Ireland 12 Scotland 13; 45 mins – Ireland try: Will Connors – 17-13; conversion: Brett Connon – 19-13; 49 mins – Scotland penalty: missed by Rory Hutchinson – 19-13; 56 mins – Ireland try: Penalty try – 24-13; conversion: Brett Connon – 26-13; 56 mins – Scotland yellow card: Callum Sheldon; 66 mins – Scotland try: George Taylor – 26-18; conversion: missed by Rory Hutchinson – 26-18; Full-time – Ireland 26 Scotland 18
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)