The Wales Under-20s’ greater experience and cohesion helped them carve out a 35-24 win over Ireland in tonight’s U-20 RBS 6 Nations opener played in bitterly cold conditions at Donnybrook
The visitors forced their way into a 20-14 half-time lead, forwards Dafydd Hughes and Adam Beard touching down in response to Cillian Gallagher's very well-taken fourth-minute try.
An intercept try from Dan Jones, who also kicked 15 points, and a fourth of the night from Harri Millard wrapped up the result, with Ireland's closing tries scored by Kelvin Brown and Shane Daly.
Wales had eight returning players from last year in their team compared to three Irish – front rowers Andrew Porter, Adam McBurney and Conan O'Donnell – and that extra bit of nous proved crucial in a very entertaining and fast-paced tussle.
Despite the opening round defeat, Nigel Carolan's youngsters can take a good deal of positives from the game with man-of-the-match John Poland, captain James Ryan and lively replacement Brown among their top performers.
Ireland hit the front after just 90 seconds, a competitive first breakdown forcing a Welsh error and a subsequent penalty was slotted by 18-year-old out-half Johnny McPhillips from close to the 22-metre line.
McPhillips increased his influence with a pinpoint cross-field kick for Daly, the latter linking with his centre partner Jimmy O'Brien whose pass near the left corner flag went to ground but a brilliant pick-up by flanker Gallagher saw him dot down.
Ireland's opening try went unconverted and number 10 Jones quickly responded for Wales, punishing an offside, before McPhillips sent a long range penalty effort wide.
The first Welsh try-scoring threat came from full-back Rhun Williams who gathered his own chip and had to be hauled down five metres out by the covering Will Connors.
But Wales ended the first quarter with a 10-8 buffer, turning down a close range penalty in favour of a lineout drive and although Ireland initially held out, hooker Hughes squeezed over near the right corner with Jones doing well to convert.
The breakdown continued to be fiercely competitive, the excellent McBurney forcing a key turnover in his 22 as Wales tried to build further pressure and Daly popped up with a terrific mark.
Ireland won back important territory through a forwards-inspired break, Connors' neat hands releasing Brown for a powerful burst downfield. Wales infringed and McPhillips mopped up with the three points.
Loose lineout play and no clear release in the tackle allowed Jones to respond inside three minutes, before scrum half Poland and skipper Ryan sparked a rousing counter attack that ended with McPhillips' third successful penalty.
However, Wales conjured up a well-timed seven-pointer in response, a power-packed spell of carrying wearing down the Irish defence and Shaun Evans' inviting pass put his forward colleague Beard over to the right of the posts.
Ireland fell further behind just 57 seconds into the second period, Jones getting in to intercept a risky pass from Poland and score from close range. The Welsh out-half slid the conversion wide at 25-14.
McBurney, Poland and Brown led the Irish response, launching another pacy attack through midfield. They plunged a penalty into the left corner and following Ryan's lineout take, Brown was driven over for an unconverted try.
The complexion of the game changed again when Jones ran into Peter Claffey's back as he chased his own chip and referee Thomas Charabas deemed it a deliberate block, harshly sending the Irish lock to the sin-bin. Jones gladly took the three points on offer.
As Ireland continued to make handling errors and miss tackles, Wales showed their cutting edge out wide, replacements Reuben Morgan-Williams and Joe Thomas leading a thrilling raid down the left wing with the latter's precise pass releasing Millard for another seven-pointer and an unassailable 35-19 lead.
But with Conor O'Brien on in the centre and Jimmy O'Brien moving to out-half, Ireland got on the front foot during the closing stages. Wales let their discipline slip as they defended a couple of close-in mauls, with try scorer Beard seeing yellow.
Ireland kept hammering away and their persistence was rewarded with a consolation score in the 79th minute, replacement Conor O'Brien gaining good yardage on a direct run and neat hands from replacement Stephen Kerins and Jimmy O'Brien putting Daly over wide on the left.
Carolan's side face a tough second round trip to Narbonne next Friday, taking on a France team that cruised to a six-try 40-3 victory over Italy tonight.
TIME LINE: 2 minutes – Ireland penalty: Johnny McPhillips – 3-0; 4 mins – Ireland try: Cillian Gallagher – 8-0; conversion: missed by Johnny McPhillips – 8-0; 8 mins – Wales penalty: Dan Jones – 8-3; 10 mins – Ireland penalty: missed by Johnny McPhillips – 8-3; 19 mins – Wales try: Dafydd Hughes – 8-8; conversion: Dan Jones – 8-10; 28 mins – Ireland penalty: Johnny McPhillips – 11-10; 31 mins – Wales penalty: Dan Jones – 11-13; 36 mins – Ireland penalty: Johnny McPhillips – 14-13; 40 mins – Wales try: Adam Beard – 14-18; conversion: Dafydd Hughes – 14-20; Half-time – Ireland 14 Wales 20; 41 mins – Wales try: Dan Jones – 14-25; conversion: missed by Dan Jones – 14-25; 49 mins – Ireland try: Kelvin Brown – 19-25; conversion: missed by Johnny McPhillips – 19-25; 56 mins – Ireland yellow card: Peter Claffey; 56 mins – Wales penalty: Dan Jones – 19-28; 63 mins – Wales try: Harri Millard – 19-33; conversion: Dan Jones – 19-35; 73 mins – Wales yellow card: Adam Beard; 79 mins – Ireland try: Shane Daly – 24-35; conversion: missed by Brett Connon – 24-35; Full-time – Ireland 24 Wales 35
Referee: Thomas Charabas (France)