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Strong Finish Helps Ireland U-20s To Opening Win

Strong Finish Helps Ireland U-20s To Opening Win

Second half drop goals from Paddy Jackson and Luke McGrath steered the Ireland Under-20s to a deserved victory over Wales in their Six Nations opener.

Newly-appointed Irish captain Paddy Jackson missed two early penalties at a bitterly cold Dubarry Park before his opposite number Sam Davies dropped a goal against the run of play.

But Mike Ruddock’s side dominated possession and territory and a 26th minute try from full-back and man-of-the-match Shane Layden was the highlight for the home crowd.

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A midfield break and well-judged pass from impressive centre JJ Hanrahan set up the speedy Layden for a simple finish in the right corner, giving the hosts a 5-3 interval lead.

Frustratingly, Ireland could not turn pressure into points and they fell behind after a Lewis Williams penalty, with Luke Morgan and Daniel Thomas leading the charge for a powerful Welsh outfit.

However, a strong final quarter got Ireland off to a winning start in the Championship as Jackson and replacement scrum half Luke McGrath kicked them home.

Jackson and Hanrahan were among the survivors from the sides’ two meetings last year which produced a Six Nations draw in Llanelli and a decisive 38-24 play-off triumph for the Welsh in the IRB Junior World Championship.

Iain Henderson, another returning player, had a storming game tonight and the big second row rumbled forward from the kick-off to earn an early penalty chance. Jackson though sent his effort narrowly wide.

A charge down by Conor Gilsenan and some strong carrying from Foster Horan forced a second penalty for Ireland, but the left hand post denied Jackson this time.

Playing into the wind, Ireland continued to exert control in the loose although a solid set piece and the big boot of out-half Davies helped relieved the pressure on the Welsh.

The swirling wind troubled both hookers but towards the end of a nervy first quarter, Davies left-footed a lovely drop goal with the comfort of a penalty advantage.

Sam Coghlan Murray almost got a clean take of Jackson's cross-field kick as Ireland tried to hit back and they did just that thanks to the creativity of Hanrahan.

The Munster prospect spotted a mismatch in centre-field, splitting the Welsh defence on a clever run and his arcing pass fed Buccaneers starlet Layden who touched down on his home pitch.

Jackson’s conversion attempt fell short, but Ireland drew confidence from the try and Hanrahan, using his quick feet, almost stretched the Welsh defence again.

The lively Aaron Conneely hounded Welsh scrum half Jonathan Evans into the concession of a penalty but the visitors held firm, crowding Coghlan Murray out as he tried to squeeze over in the left corner.

Good work at the breakdown from prop Peter Reilly won a relieving penalty for Ireland as the Welsh tried to force the issue, in the opening minutes of the second half.

Reilly was part of an Irish front row that got the better of their heavier Welsh counterparts in the scrum, reversing the early trend.

Good link play from Kieran Marmion and better execution overall invited Layden and Barry Daly through as they took play back into the Welsh 22, however turnovers thwarted both sides in attack.

Wales covered the danger as Jackson chipped over the top for a leaping Layden in front of the posts. There was little comfort for the Irish though as they remained just two points ahead.

Wales duly managed to edge 6-5 ahead with 66 minutes on the clock. A bulldozing carry from prop Rob Evans sent Irish replacement Jake Cawley crashing to earth and set up a penalty which Lewis Williams knocked over.

A shaken Cawley was taken off with Reilly being reintroduced. From the restart, Ireland engineered a penalty but Jackson failed to find the target.

Nevertheless, the Ulster-capped out-half redeemed himself with a well-struck drop goal in the 70th minute and an inspirational kick to touch shortly afterwards.

The energy was coming from Ireland again as the industrious Jack Conan, Gilsenan and Tadhg Beirne carried the fight to the Welsh up front.

McGrath, who only turned 19 today, also stamped his mark on the game with a lively cameo performance. The former Ireland U-18 captain punished a loose kick out of the Welsh defence by brilliantly slotting a drop goal from outside the 22.

And in the final minute, McGrath succeeded in ripping the ball free from Iolo Evans' grasp to clear it to touch and bring a breathless encounter to a close.

Referee: James Matthew (Scotland)