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Ireland Under-20s Lose By Narrow Margin

Ireland Under-20s Lose By Narrow Margin

The Ireland Under-20s, sponsored by PwC, went tantalisingly close to upsetting the odds in this bruising Six Nations opener in Colwyn Bay.

Man-of-the-match Luke McGrath and Tom Daly both touched down for Mike Ruddock's youngsters, who had 13 Championship debutants in their starting line-up.

But Sam Davies' place-kicking haul of 14 points allied to a second half try from Dion Jones saw the home side edge it on a 17-15 scoreline.

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Wales' greater level of experience – they boasted eight of the squad that finished third at last summer's IRB Junior World Championship – helped them grind out a nervy victory in the end.

Their out-half Davies missed three penalty attempts inside the opening 12 minutes as the wind-backed Welsh failed to capitalise on their early dominance.

The home forwards used a strong set piece to attack the Irish close in. Davies was off target in the second minute after Conor Joyce was singled out for collapsing a maul.

Gavin Thornbury was well-positioned at a ruck as Ireland won a relieving penalty on their 22, however some aimless kicking from the visitors allowed the Welsh to quickly counter.

Stuart Olding caught Daniel Thomas with a well-timed tackle, forcing a forward pass just as Ireland looked set to leak a breakaway try.

Pressure in the scrum saw props Brian Scott and Chris Taylor pinged on separate occasions, yet Davies was unable to convert the kicks.

He split the posts at the fourth attempt in the 14th minute. Ireland responded well though, the talismanic McGrath ghosting over halfway after a neat dummy.

Taylor, John Donnan and others got their hands on the ball as confidence spread among Ruddock’s charges. Just moments later, McGrath showed his sniping qualities again – this time burrowing over the try-line from a close range ruck.

The five-pointer came at the end of Ireland’s best spell of attacking, the pack mauling initially into the 22 and Steve Crosbie and Rory Scannell both getting over the gain-line.

Scannell’s centre partner Daly swung over the conversion from the right for a 7-3 lead, heading into the second quarter.

It was a hugely encouraging score and there were signs of further improvements from Ireland with Crosbie, Rory Scholes and full-back Olding all kicking well.

McGrath led by example once more on the half hour mark, winning a penalty as he arrived first to a ruck after Cory Allen was brought to ground.

Welsh centre Allen went close to collecting an interception and Scholes then had to be alive to the danger as he scrambled back under pressure from Ashton Hewitt.

Ireland continued to show their ability to soak up pressure in defence. Good poaching from McGrath on the ground and a clever burst from Crosbie released Alexander O'Meara who brought play up to the Welsh 22.

Turnover ball led to Hewitt getting another chance to stretch his legs, but a textbook challenge from the covering Olding stopped him in his tracks.

Davies suffered his fourth penalty miss late on as Ireland determinedly held onto their lead for half-time.

Into the second period, Ireland wasted no time in putting the home side on the back foot. Scannell’s arcing run saw him slice open the Welsh defence, and he got an offload away to his Dolphin club-mate Ryan Murphy.

The nip and tuck nature of the match continued as Wales clawed back territory and a soft penalty allowed Davies to close the gap to a single point.

The Welsh number 10 missed a long range effort soon after, but Danny Wilson’s side stepped it up in attack – particularly after Taylor was sin-binned for a ruck offence in the 22.

Wales took immediate advantage as a neat necklace of passes put Jones over in the left corner, the try scorer finding a gap between Olding and O’Meara.

Davies’ conversion attempt bounced back off the crossbar. Ireland had to weather another mini storm – hooker George McGuigan exemplified the visitors’ commitment in defence – before a Davies three-pointer punished Scannell for a high tackle.

Back came Ireland, Olding worming his way through on a superb thrusting run and then a slashing break from Crosbie had them close to the whitewash.

Wales had to infringe as Ireland turned down a series of kickable penalties, feeding off McGrath’s quick passes in sight of the line. Murphy was inches away from scoring with a TMO decision going against him.

But 14-man Wales could not hold out and a terrific offload from Scannell released Daly for a power-packed charge to the line past three defenders.

Unfortunately, with the wind stiffening across the pitch, the Lansdowne clubman watched his conversion effort tail away to the right of the posts.

Wales managed to steady themselves with a fourth successful penalty from Davies, moving them 17-12 clear with a quarter of an hour remaining.

The McGrath-inspired Irish cranked it up again, desperately hunting for a converted try with Olding and Crosbie somehow finding holes in the well-organised home defence.

Daniel Thomas infringed allowing Daly to kick a close-in penalty and set up a nail-biting climax with just two points separating the sides.

Ireland’s endeavour could not be questioned in the closing stages, but they were unable to claw back enough territory to get into scoring range again.

That extra bit of composure and experience guided the Welsh over the finish line as Ireland, who host England in Athlone next weekend, fell just short.

Giving his thoughts on the game afterwards, Ireland head coach Mike Ruddock said: “We need to cut down on the penalty count and work on our scrummaging. But there were a lot of positives, from our continuity to our tackling.

“We outscored them by two tries to one and feel that there is a lot we can improve on. It is a learning process for the boys.

“Of course we are disappointed not to win but we can take a lot from the game and look for a better performance the next time out. That's what it is all about.”

TIME LINE: 2 minutes – Wales penalty: missed by Sam Davies – 0-0; 10 mins – Wales penalty: missed by Sam Davies – 0-0; 12 mins – Wales penalty: missed by Sam Davies – 0-0; 14 mins – Wales penalty: Sam Davies – 3-0; 21 mins – Ireland try: Luke McGrath – 3-5; conversion: Tom Daly – 3-7; 40 mins – Wales penalty: missed by Sam Davies – 3-7; Half-time – Wales 3 Ireland 7; 44 mins – Wales penalty: Sam Davies – 6-7; 47 mins – Wales penalty: missed by Sam Davies – 6-7; 49 mins – Ireland yellow card: Chris Taylor (not rolling away after tackle); 50 mins – Wales try: Dion Jones – 11-7; conversion: missed by Sam Davies – 11-7; 56 mins – Wales penalty: Sam Davies – 14-7; 60 mins – Wales yellow card: Nicky Thomas (hands in the ruck); 62 mins – Ireland try: Tom Daly – 14-12; conversion: missed by Tom Daly – 14-12; 65 mins – Wales penalty: Sam Davies – 17-12; 76 mins – Ireland penalty: Tom Daly – 17-15; Full-time – Wales 17 Ireland 15

Referee: Laurent Cardona (France)