Sean Farrell reports from Musgrave Park
SIX LONG YEARS may have passed since the last time an Ireland U20 side defeated England on home turf – three since the James Ryan-inspired side forced a win in Newcastle – but you wouldn’t guess it by Noel McNamara’s calm post-match demeanour.
The age grade head coach was delighted by the effort and mental strength on show from his players to record a 35-27 win on opening night in Cork, but tempering it all was the need to back up the performance next week in Scotland.
“There’s not a lot that happened today that was a huge surprise to us,” said McNamara after his men won by the odd try in seven, claiming a bonus point and denying England a losing one in the process.
“I’ve worked with these players and know these players, they’re very strong in character, they’re a very cohesive unit. They’ll recognise it’s just one game. They’ve got a lot of rugby in front of them over the season. Nobody’s going to get too carried away. It’s about getting better for these boys.”
Midway through the first-half of last night’s thrilling win, victory looked well out of reach as perennial title challengers England clinically capitalised on errors and stormed to 3-14 and 10-21 leads despite Ireland having set out a decent stall in terms of territory and attacking shape.
McNamara leading the warm-up ahead of last night’s win. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
By out-scoring England two tries to nil in the second half, though, those three early concessions need not be lamented. They can be viewed through a positive lens as three errors, eminently fixable. Overall there was little wrong with the defensive effort.
“You have to give credit to the boys, they were particularly mentally tough in that passage of play. Mental toughness is doing it under pressure, under fatigue, and that’s when they really came up trumps.
The head coach added:
“We spoke about it at half time, we conceded three tries; but one of them was from our own line-out, which malfunctioned. Another was from a transition. We had the ball, turned it over and they were clinical there. The third one was from our exit, we didn’t quite get the contest right and went straight under the sticks.
“But the character the boys showed and the resilience to just keep playing, keep trusting their game and they took their opportunities when they came.
“Even to deny them the bonus and for us to get it in the end was great as well.”
Foley reaches for the line, turning a win into a bonus point-win. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
That extra little detail was the icing on the cake for McNamara. Not because it made last night the biggest win for Ireland U20s over England since 2010, nor that it’s just the fifth such victory in 11 years of the current tournament, but because it gives his side a five-point lead over a pre-tournament favourite.
The Clare man will quickly turn his focus on preparing his young squad to face a Scotland backlash after they lost to Italy last night. If they successfully back up tonight’s performance and then navigate a way past the Azzurri, they’ll have a title chase on their hands by the time they return to Musgrave Park to face France.
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