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Ireland Under-20s Continue On Winning Trail

Ireland Under-20s Continue On Winning Trail

Late tries from Iain Henderson and Shane Layden proved decisive at Dubarry Park on Friday as the Ireland Under-20s kept their dreams of Six Nations glory alive by beating a durable Italian side.

A 65th minute try from Italy winger Alex Morsellino looked like it had set this game up for a nail-biting finale, but Mike Ruddock's charges held firm to make it three wins from three in this year's Championship.

Though they headed into the tie as rank outsiders, it was actually the Azzurrini who enjoyed the better start to the proceedings.

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They had a chance to open the scoring when out-half Riccardo Della Rossa lined up a penalty from just inside the Ireland half two minutes in.

The Marchiol Mogliano clubman came up short on this occasion, but the Italians were making an assured beginning to the contest, and would take lead after eight minutes when Della Rossa easily converted a place-kick from just inside the 22.

Ireland were finding if difficult to settle into the game, as the wet and mucky nature of the pitch was contributing to some poor handling as they worked their way out of defence.

They did eventually find their feet, however, and were back on level terms when captain Paddy Jackson split the posts with a 12th minute penalty from 25 metres after Italy number 8 Alessio Zdrilich was caught offside.

This score helped to settle the hosts' nerves and following some good attacking bursts from Jackson, JJ Hanrahan and Layden, Ireland took the lead for the very first time courtesy of a close range Jackson penalty after 21 minutes of play.

By this point, Italy had been reduced to 14 players for a professional foul by powerful prop Antonio Brandolini. This gave Ireland a significant advantage in the scrum where the Azzurrini had been pushing their weight around to considerable effect).

The hosts used their extra man to manufacture another penalty with eight first half minutes remaining, which the increasingly influential Jackson expertly slotted over.

Italy did have a chance to cut into the Irish advantage on 34 minutes, but Della Rossa's long range penalty dropped well short of the target.

Jackson also had a missed opportunity from a penalty five minutes later, but the Dungannon clubman made amends in the final moment of the half as his fourth penalty from a angle on the right handed Ireland a 12-3 interval cushion.

This put Ireland in a good position heading into the second period, but the tempo was of the game was affected by a long stoppage due to an unfortunate clash of heads between Ireland's Dungannon centre Chris Farrell and Italy's Della Rossa, who had to leave the field as a result of the collision.

When the game eventually settled down again, it was Ireland who had the better of the exchanges, and they certainly seemed the more likely of the two sides to register the first try of the contest.

Indeed, had their handling in the final third been slightly sharper, they may have had a greater lead which had by then moved up to 12 points thanks to a 49th minute penalty from out-half Jackson.

However, just when it looked like Ireland were going to cruise over the line, the Azzurrini injected fresh impetus into the contest.

Abrilliant break out of defence by Michele Campagnaro was complimented by a terrific run over the whitewash by Petrarca Padova's Morsellino.

Though full-back David Odiete was off target with the subsequent conversion, Italy were now right back in the contest.

Yet, when push came to shove, Ireland were able to step up a gear, as fine work from Layden and replacement Aaron Conneely put the outstanding Henderson through for his side's first try with just 12 minutes of play remaining.

Jackson narrowly missed the posts with his conversion, but he got it right with just two minutes to go when he added the extras to a try from Buccaneers' very own Layden.

The nippy full-back got through on the right wing via an offload by Farrell at the end of a fine team move.

All this meant that Ireland had 19 points to spare over a dogged Azzurrini outfit, and though there are plenty of areas that Ruddock and his coaching staff will be looking to improve on, it was a satisfactory night's work all the same.

Referee: Cammy Rudkin (Scotland)