Jump to main content


PWC logo

Ireland Under-20s Well Beaten In Cup Semi-Final

Ireland Under-20s Well Beaten In Cup Semi-Final

The Ireland Under-20s’ first ever IRB Junior World Championship semi-final ended in a comprehensive 42-15 defeat as defending champions England proved a class apart in Auckland.

The English are well used to reaching the last-four at this level and it showed as they raced into a 34-3 lead by the 33rd minute thanks to tries from Harry Sloan, Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi, Howard Packman and Tom Woolstencroft.

Google Ad Manager – 300×250 – In Article

Their power up front and accuracy in the backs saw them dictate play at QBE Stadium with Ross Byrne registering Ireland's lone first half score from the kicking tee.

Ireland captain Jack O'Donoghue had to go off before the break, the injury toll – Mike Ruddock lost his two previous skippers (Dan Leavy and Sean O'Brien) in recent months – proving particularly unforgiving.

Ireland have a high number of Under-19s on board in New Zealand, including half-backs Byrne and Nick McCarthy, and they at least have next Friday's 3rd/4th place play-off against hosts New Zealand at Eden Park (kick-off 5.05pm local time/6.05am Irish time) to aim for before returning home.

Ruddock's side can at least take some momentum into that game. They were much improved in the second half and showed plenty of character, outscoring England 12-8 over the closing 40 minutes with tries from centre Garry Ringrose and winger Alex Wootton.

Ringrose, one of the U-19 players, scored from a brilliant Byrne grubber kick and Wootton finished smartly in the left corner with 12 minutes remaining.

Speaking afterwards, head coach Mike Ruddock said: “We spoke before the game about having to put on a world class defensive performance to compete with England – and whilst I am very proud of the boys, we simply could not match them.

“That is a very good, complete England team. Their experience is immense. I was very proud with how we dug in and kept battling, that was the plus point.”

O'Donoghue commented: “England went at us from the start and we were basically chasing the game from the off. It was difficult to get good go-forward ball and we struggled there. It's great for us to get this far and hopefully we can go on to the next game and drive it home.”

England, whose squad depth saw only four players retained from the last match against Argentina, gained the upper hand in the initial set pieces. Flanker Gus Jones stole the first lineout and then the Irish scrum was sent backwards for a penalty which Billy Burns booted over in the fourth minute.

Stephen Gardiner did well to cover a kick from dangerous winger Packman, but the early pressure told as England controlled possession and centre Sloan sold a dummy and dived over to the right of the posts.

The try was converted by Burns and Ireland were forced on the defensive again after losing a second lineout, England moving the ball at pace and with impressive precision in a high tempo start.

A penalty against prop Rory Burke was punished by three more points from Burns, before Ireland finally got a chance to counter with Frankie Taggart making good yardage initially and Cian Kelleher breaking on the right.

Ciaran Gaffney caught the English off guard with a quickly taken penalty that almost led to a try, the winger's run up towards the try-line galvanising his side and Byrne landed the ensuing penalty for 13-3.

But the Irish defence splintered soon after as commanding scrum half Henry Taylor tapped a penalty, Paul Hill gained crucial momentum and fellow prop Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi – the eventual man-of-the-match – proved unstoppable from a few metres out. Burns added the extras for a 17-point margin.

Try number three followed in the 27th minute, Nathan Earle scrambling his way through two tackles before Burns' cross-field kick found Packman on the opposite wing and he evaded Gaffney's grasp on the way to the line.

Gaffney then had to concede a five-metre lineout following a well-judged kick from prop Hobbs-Awoyemi and England's maul did the rest, setting up hooker Woolstencroft for a converted effort to the left of the posts.

Ireland's own attempts to get over the whitewash were thwarted from a close-in lineout and scrum as a groggy-looking O'Donoghue had to be replaced in the 38th minute by Rory Moloney, with Taggart shifting to number 8.

There were positive signs for Ireland though as the back-three of Kelleher, Gaffney and Wootton ran hard at the English defence and Taggart always looked capable for beating the first man.

Ireland enjoyed an encouraging start to the second period with replacements Oisin Heffernan and Harrison Brewer making an impact in the scrum and open play respectively.

They scored their opening try, 10 minutes in, when Byrne's well-weighted kick was dotted down by Ringrose behind the posts. Byrne converted for a 37-10 scoreline – the seven-pointer coming in response to a Packman drop goal.

England's dominance of the forward exchanges continued though, as a powerful lineout maul saw Jones driven over in the 54th minute.

Ireland kept probing for openings off an increased share of possession and full-back Kelleher was unfortunately called back for a forward pass from Ringrose as space opened up on the right.

Ireland's all-round improvements were rewarded with a second try in the 68th minute. Good distribution across the back-line, following a Heffernan-inspired set of carries, saw Brewer draw in two defenders before passing for Wootton to step inside Packman's tackle and score.

Byrne's replacement Conor McKeon was unable to convert but showed some nice touches at out-half as Ruddock's youngsters profited from a better balanced scrum and superior results at the breakdown, with Taggart key to the latter.

As they qualified for their third JWC final in four years (they will face New Zealand's conquerors South Africa), England ended the game in Ireland's 22 and frustration got the better of Kelleher as he was yellow carded in injury-time for a tackle offence.

TIME LINE: 4 minutes – England penalty: Billy Burns – 3-0; 8 mins – England try: Harry Sloan – 8-0; conversion: Billy Burns – 10-0; 12 mins – England penalty: Billy Burns – 13-0; 19 mins – Ireland penalty: Ross Byrne – 13-3; 21 mins – England try: Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi – 18-3; conversion: Billy Burns – 20-3; 27 mins – England try: Howard Packman – 25-3; conversion: Billy Burns – 27-3; 33 mins – England try: Tom Woolstencroft – 32-3; conversion: Billy Burns – 34-3; Half-time – England 34 Ireland 3; 48 mins – England drop goal: Howard Packman – 37-3; 50 mins – Ireland try: Garry Ringrose – 37-8; conversion: Ross Byrne – 37-10; 54 mins – England try: Gus Jones – 42-10; conversion: missed by Billy Burns – 42-10; 68 mins – Ireland try: Alex Wootton – 42-15; conversion: missed by Conor McKeon – 42-15; 80+1 mins – Ireland yellow card: Cian Kelleher; Full-time – England 42 Ireland 15

Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)