Ireland fell to a late 33 – 25 defeat against England in their opening match of the under 20 World Cup in Italy.
Substitute James McKinney managed to kick Ireland into a 25 – 23 lead to give hope of a win with just eight minutes on the clock.
England had named the same 15 that brushed Ireland aside 46-15 in Athlone in March. Although Ireland put up much more of a fight this time around; ultimately England’s power came out on top as George Ford edged England back in front before Shane Buckley was yellow carded.
A late try from Marland Yarde sealed the bonus point win for England, adding to five-pointers from Andy Short, Henry Thomas and Mako Vunipola.
England got off to a flier. An early knock gave them the chance to spread the ball wide through their backs. Ireland were stretched but stood firm, forcing a knock on in the left side of the 22.
But the ominous English signs from that first scrum proved accurate. From an identical scrum position they whipped the ball right through the backline. Elliot Daly made the angle from centre and released Short who had only to fall over the line.
Ford showed exactly why he was selected ahead of Saracen, Owen Farrell. The precocious young Leicester Tigers fly-half converted from the most difficult angle with the utmost ease.
He nailed another two kicks soon after as Ireland as a collective just could not get it going. England were winning every collision at the breakdown. Their dominance also stretched to the scrum and lineout and when Paddy Jackson scuffed two penalties wide, you wondered how long Ireland could make this a contest.
Step forward Andrew Conway: After Ford chipped towards the try line, Andrew Boyle grounded for Ireland, forcing a 22. The ball was thrown over to Conway. In space on the right; he launched the drop out against Alex Gray’s shoulder and collected the deflected effort at full speed.
With a full 60 meters to sprint, the jet-heeled Conway was in his element and gleefully tore down the right wing and under the posts.
The underdogs could not hold that three point deficit until half time. A wayward Niall Annet lineout was collected by Everard, hurtling towards the line. With an advantage coming their way, Chris Cook tossed the pill out to the blind side where Haywood and Thomas combined to send the tight-head over.
Ford missed his conversion, but Jackson immediately had the tee back at his feet and gratefully took the chance to narrow the gap to 18 – 13 at the break.
Ruddock must have been in foul humour at half time. Whatever he said to his young band had the desired effect as they emerged with an intent which was sorely lacking from their first 40 minutes.
Concerted pressure resulted in a penalty, from which Jackson duly reduced the gap to just two.
Rob Hunter sent on Farrell, the Premiership winner was used at inside centre, in tandem with Ford. And they began pragmatically trying steadying the ship in Ireland’s half.
And that’s what they did – despite a terrific Annet steal which looked to be the result of Irish rising superiority at the breakdown – Vunipola, the latest player of Tongan decent to wear the red rose, found space on the left wing to go through the gears.
Once he got going, Gilroy was never going to prove much of a hurdle to stop him crossing the line.
A missed conversion gave Ireland hope, but that appeared to be dashed when McKinney missed his first kick. He immediately put that right with six points in quick succession to narrow the gap to a minimum.
His third dissected the posts in the 72nd minute and England were rocking. Gilroy was picking holes and Annet had his pack humming. But Ford was still the steady hand. Keeping a cool head, he nudged his side back into the lead.
Immediately after that; Shane Buckley was losing his cool and his game was ended by a deserved yellow for letting his knee maliciously stray into a ruck – Jamie Heaslip was red carded for a similar offence against the All Blacks.
After a rare mis-hit from Ford, England roared back down the left, determined to finish off the 14 men in style. ‘Style’ maybe was lacking, but the finish was certainly effective.
The white shirts flooded towards the tryline and Marland Yarde somehow found a gap to wriggle through and claim five points. Ford clinically converted and put the formbook right back onto the table.
England have still never lost a pool game at this level. Ireland meanwhile have never beaten the old enemy in this competition and Ruddock will have some work to do to pick his disappointed players up in time for another massive challenge against South Africa in four days’ time.
IRELAND : C Gilroy, A Conway, B Macken, L Marshall, A Boyle; P Jackson, K Marmion; J Tracy, N Annett, T Furlong; M Kearney, I Henderson; J Murphy, D Gallagher, E McKeon. Replacements : D Doyle, C Carey (for Tracy 78) D Qualter (for Kearney ‘58), S Buckley (for McKeon ’70), P Du Toit, J McKinney (for Marshall ’62) , JJ Hanrahan (for Jackson ’54)
ENGLAND : B Ransom; A Short, E Daly, R Mills, J Joseph; G Ford, C Cook; M Vunipola, M Haywood, H Thomas; J Launchbury, C Matthews; M Kvesic, M Everard, A Gray (capt). Replacements : R Buchanan, R Bower, S Twomey, S Jones ( for Everard ‘ 51) D Robson, O Farrell (for Mills ’43) M Yarde (for Ransom ’75)