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Ireland Under-20s Make Winning Start

Ireland Under-20s Make Winning Start

New Ireland Under-20 coach Mike Ruddock got his tenure off to a solid start, with his charges claiming a 29-10 win over the Italy U-20s in Thursday’s friendly international at Donnybrook.

Out-half Paddy Jackson's beautifully judged kick-off was taken at full stretch by number 8 Eoin McKeon. From there, Leinster Academy winger Sam Coghlan Murray made the first incision for a gain of ten metres.

Then, a number of phases ended with a wonderful take-and-give from blindside flanker Michael Kearney for Coghlan Murray to stroll in at the corner for the opening try and a superb start from the hosts.

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The Ulster 10-12 axis between Jackson and Luke Marshall, who made his Ulster debut last week, gave Ireland two playmakers at the hub of what was a fast, wide and exciting gameplan.

The Italians were forced to live off scraps, but they did come close to breaking their duck when scrum half Guglielmo Palazzani had a shot to nothing from a halfway penalty.

He missed that attempt, before quickly made amends when Irish prop Martin Moore was spotted in an offside position in the 14th minute.

This put some pep in the Italian step. They used their big forwards to make short yards with out-half Augusto Cosulich the fulcrum as they drove hard into the midfield.

However, as the rain started to fall, the Italians' error count increased and the conditions played to the advantage of a powerful Irish scrum which drove the visitors back metres at a time.

A pacy in-and-out counter from Coghlan Murray was taken on by hooker David Doyle, bouncing to his feet when he was not held in the tackle. The recycle came for Jackson and Alex Kelly to send Luke Marshall over for a 24th minute try.

Then, a huge hit by McKeon on Cosulich shook the ball free. Not content to hoof the ball upfield, Marshall saw the opportunity to move it right for centre Kelly to travel 80 metres for Ireland's third try with Coghlan Murray for company just in case he was needed. Jackson missed his third straight conversion, all from near the touchline.

When full-back Giovanni Alberghini nudged Italy within five metres of the Irish line with a perfectly-weighted kick, the call came for hooker Doyle to throw to the tail of the lineout in what could best be described as a high risk option.

Sure enough, the ball was too long and loosehead prop Nicola Quaglio seized on it to plunge for the line. Palazzani added the extras.

The door back into the match was immediately slammed in the visitors faces when Kelly offloaded slickly off the floor for Coghlan Murray to set off on a trademark surge that took him around two defenders and over for his second try. Jackson's successful conversion gave Ireland a 22-10 lead.

The tremendous impact of blindside flanker Michael Kearney put Ireland on the front foot again, allowing McKeon to combine sweetly with his Connacht colleague Daniel Qualter and score a terrific team try on the half-time whistle. Jackson converted for a 29-10 advantage.

A multitude of replacements at half-time and shortly thereafter combined with the difficult handling conditions prompted a lull in the pace of the game.

The general grind suited the visitors' more pedestrian style of play with a brand new front row in place and their blindside flanker Andrea Balsemin taking the ball on regularly.

The pick-and-drive became Italy's greatest weapon as the weather worsened. They managed to camp in the Irish 22 until lock Cesare Berton was shunted backwards by a double tackle. The stalemate continued as Ireland could not break free of their half.

It ended for Mike Ruddock's side as an exercise in defence. The Irish used their intelligence to double team the bulkier Italians in the tackle area around the fringes, with hard-working captain Jordi Murphy leading the resistance.

Referee: Leo Colgan (IRFU)