Mike Ruddock’s reign as Ireland Under 20 coach got off to a winning start thanks to a late flourish against Italy, but it is France who top the RBS Under 20 Six Nations standings after running in six tries to overwhelm Scotland 49-5.
Ireland found Italy a tough opponent to crack at the Stadio XXV Aprile in Parma in the opening game of the 2011 Championship on Friday evening, needing two tries in the last 10 minutes by Craig Gilroy to put the gloss on a 28-9 win.
Italy, determined to put on a good display in the Six Nations before they host the IRB Junior World Championship in June, went in trailing by only two points at the interval after three penalties from Marco Gennari.
The deficit grew to 14-9 with another Paddy Jackson penalty, but it was still anyone’s game, until that is the defending champions stepped up another gear with Gilroy’s two tries in four minutes putting Ireland beyond reach.
Ireland, though, know they will need to hit the ground running on Friday night when they face France, the 2009 champions having sent an ominous message to their rivals by brushing Scotland aside 49-5.
France too good for Scotland
Not quite surpassing the half century as the French women did against Scotland on the same evening, France were nonetheless impressive in signalling their own aspirations to reclaim the Under 20 title.
Captain and fly half Jean-Marc Doussain, who plays his rugby with top French club Toulouse, kicked three penalties and converted tries by Kevin Gimeno and William Demotte to give the hosts a 23-0 half-time advantage.
The 7,000 crowd at the Stade Velodrome de Venoix in Caen had more cause to celebrate following tries in quick succession from Walter Demaison and Marvin O’Connor, with Pierre Julien scoring France’s fifth try just after the hour mark.
Scotland finally got on the scoreboard with a consolation effort from Mark Bennett in the 65th minute, but there was still time for Geoffrey Palis to cross for France’s sixth try to the delight of the crowd.
The final score may suggest a one-sided affair, but Scotland coach Peter Wright insisted he was still proud of his players and saw enough to feel positive about the season ahead.
“We always knew it was going to be a big physical challenge but the boys stuck in and got on with it,” insisted Wright. “We were outdone by a team of big physical boys who were probably one of the best Under 20 teams I’ve seen during my time working at this level.
“We looked dangerous when we worked through the phases so this experience will stand us in good stead for the rest of the tournament. We are ultimately disappointed with the result, but proud of the effort.”
England tested by Wales
Scotland will be hoping to bounce back when they entertain Wales at Bridgehaugh Park in Stirling on Friday, although their visitors will also be eager to record their first victory of the Championship after going down 26-20 to England in round one.
The match at Parc y Scarlets was the proverbial game of two halves with England’s free-flowing rugby resulting in four first-half tries, but they then spent much of the second half on defensive duties as Wales, roared on by a passionate crowd, fought back.
Wales actually made the better start, fly half Matthew Morgan made a break from his own 22 with flanker Ed Siggery touching down under the posts. However within minutes England were on the board after a slick passing move allowed wing Jamie Elliott to dive over in the corner.
Morgan, who will miss the second round of matches having been called up by Wales Sevens for the HSBC Sevens World Series event in Las Vegas, added a 23rd minute penalty to extend Wales’ advantage to 10-5, but this seemed only to spark England to life.
Mako Vunipola went close to scoring before Matt Kvesic scored either side of captain Alex Gray to turn the match in England’s favour, the visitors going into 26-13 ahead after another Morgan penalty just before the interval.
The second half was a different story, though, with England spending most of it on the back foot as Wales tried to complete a remarkable comeback against a side who had beaten them 41-14 only 12 months earlier.
As the clock wore down Wales thought they had scored a much-needed try after a strong drive by their forwards, but the Television Match Official ruled the ball had not been touched down. Wales’ persistence, though, eventually paid off with number 8 Ben Thomas scoring with 10 minutes from time to bring them to within a converted try of victory.
The near 3,000 crowd in Llanelli tried all they could to carry Wales over the final hurdle, but England’s defence held firm and it was the men in white celebrating with relief come the final whistle after escaping with the win.
“Credit to Wales, they really stuck it into us hard towards the end and really forced us to play,” admitted Kvesic. “They came out all guns blazing but we stood firm and held out for the win – and to do that in Wales, you can’t ask for much more.
“It was like a game of two halves in a way – we seemed to spend most of the first half attacking and most of the second defending. It was nothing to do with complacency, I just think that the crowd really got behind them and Wales played well and ran the ball smartly.”