Grand Slam looms on horizon for England U20s

(IRB.COM) Tuesday 15 March 2011
 Grand Slam looms on horizon for England U20s
Andy Warren scores for Wales, but they were denied victory by a last gasp Ireland try - Photo: Huw Evans Agency

England coach Rob Hunter may have banned any talk of Grand Slams, but his side remain on course for a clean sweep of the RBS Under 20 Six Nations after beating Scotland 56-8 in their penultimate encounter in the Championship.

All that stands between England and a first Grand Slam since 2008 is outgoing champions Ireland, a side that will be eager to deny them a clean sweep and also get one over a team they will face again at the IRB Junior World Championship in Italy in June.

England were on the scoreboard against Scotland after only three minutes, an expertly executed cross-field kick from talented fly half George Ford falling perfectly for centre Elliot Daly to touch down.

The visitors did open their own account with a penalty, but England responded with tries from wing Christian Wade, Daly and captain Alex Gray to move out to 28-3. Scotland began to fight back again with prop Robin Hislop barging over the line, but Rob Buchanan reasserted England’s advantage before the break.

England suffered a blow when flanker Kieran Low was stretchered off with what was believed, at the time, to be a broken ankle, but even the loss of Matt Kvesic to the sin-bin did not provide Scotland with an opportunity to claw their way back.

"A class apart"

Instead prop Mako Vunipola and Gray crossed for tries before Daly completed his hat-trick and took his tally to seven in three matches, having crossed for four tries in the win against Italy in round two.

“We’re very happy with the performance, to be four from four is exactly what we wanted,” admitted England coach Rob Hunter. “We lost our rhythm at times, but it can be hard for these young lads to keep such a high pressure and intensity up for 80 minutes.

“It’s great to have such a depth of talent to choose from. Owen [Farrell] has come in and he’s done very well, as a coach it’s important to have a good level of competition for places. Selection is getting very interesting at the moment, but that’s the way it should be.”

His counterpart Peter Wright added: “England are as good a side I’ve seen at Under 20 level. They’re a class apart from everyone else in the tournament and their size and pace told over the 80 minutes.”

While England will be hoping to match their senior men and women and achieve the Grand Slam with victory in Ireland on Friday, defeat by their JWC 2011 pool opponent means that Scotland are now left with a battle against Italy to avoid the Six Nations wooden spoon.

Italy currently prop up the standings, albeit by a marginally inferior point differential, after slipping to their fourth loss in the Championship, 25-3 to France at the Stadio San Michele in Calvisano.

France battle past Italy

France, seeking to bounce back from a loss to England which ended their Grand Slam dreams, got off to the perfect start when second row Sebastien Vahaamahina crashed over the try-line after only three minutes.

This was not to be the catalyst for a runaway French victory, though, as the only additions to the score in the rest of the first half were penalties from Italy wing Marco Gennari and France captain Jean-Marc Doussain exchanging penalties.

The second half saw France pin their hosts in their own half for long periods with an inevitably second score coming via a penalty try after a powerful scrum was pulled down by the Italians.

A spirited Italian outfit restricted France to only one more try through centre Jean-Pascal Barraque five minutes from time, a result which mathematically keeps the French in the hunt for the title, albeit only if England slip up in Ireland and they can overturn a -56 point deficit.

Ireland and Wales had also been hoping to be in a position to capitalise on any England slip up on the final weekend, but after playing out a 26-26 draw at the Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli on Friday the best either side can hope for is the runners-up spot.

Wales thought they had done enough to secure victory with three penalties by Matthew Morgan in the last eight minutes, but Ireland had other ideas with replacement hooker David Doyle scoring in injury-time.

Post denies Ireland win

Paddy Jackson had the chance to snatch the win at the death with the conversion, but his effort agonisingly hit the left upright and left both sides frustrated and ruing missed opportunities to claim a third win of the Championship.

A good advertisement for Under 20 rugby, the match between two equally matched sides ebbed and flowed throughout from the moment Jackson opened the scoring with an early long-range penalty to his heartbreaking miss at the end.

Ireland lost captain Niall Annett to an injury early on and it was a mistake which led to Wales’ first try, a loose pass from Blane McIlroy being seized upon by Ben Thomas who kicked ahead and then pressured Jackson into a mistake for Adam Warren to touch down.

The try only managed to fire Ireland and a run of 15 unanswered points swung the match in their favour, Jackson kicking a penalty before prop Michael Moore muscled over from close range and wing Craig Gilroy enhanced his growing reputation with a 45-metre run in.

The match then turned back towards Wales in the remainder of the first half as they fought back to 18-17 down, a strong tackle from Owen Williams resulting in a loose ball, which Harry Robinson scooped up and broke free before sending centre Williams over for the try.

An early Jackson penalty after the break edged Ireland a little further ahead but Morgan’s trio of penalties looked certain to send the home fans away happy until Doyle popped up at the death to spoil the party.