Ireland travel to England knowing that if they avoid defeat at Adams Park on Friday they will be crowned RBS Under 20 Six Nations champions and secure a confidence boost ahead of the side’s meeting at the IRB Junior World Championship 2012 in June.
The Irish are the only side with a perfect record in the Six Nations going into the final weekend after England suffered their first Championship defeat under head coach Rob Hunter, 12-8 to France in Vannes on Sunday to end their hopes of back-to-back Grand Slams.
Ireland have grown in confidence since beating France 13-12 in round two, the first time an Irish side have ever beaten their French counterparts at Under 20 or Under 21 level, and shut out Scotland 26-0 on Friday at Dubarry Park to keep alive the prospect of a second title in three years.
Full back Shane Layden, scrum half Luke McGrath and number 8 Jack Conan scored Ireland’s tries in the victory which leaves Scotland heading to Rome to face an Italian side also looking for their first win in the 2012 Championship.
England, who edged Ireland 33-25 in the pool stages of JWC 2011, will successfully defend their Six Nations title if they bounce back from their French disappointment and beat Ireland as they have a far superior point difference, more than double that of their rivals.
Things had started well enough for England at the Stade de la Rabine with a third-minute penalty by Ryan Mills opening the scoring, but Tom Ecochard edged France ahead with two kicks of his own and the hosts were unlucky not to add to these with the Television Match Official twice ruling no try as the French piled on the pressure in the English 22.
France continued on the front foot after the restart but were unable to increase their 6-3 advantage and actually feel behind when England made the breakthrough with 10 minutes remaining, David Sisi touching down on his Under 20 debut.
Wales snatch it in dying minutes
Mills missed the conversion and France hit back with two more penalties from the boot of scrum half Ecochard, holding on for victory to lie third in the standings, behind England point differential and looking at best for second place in the Championship.
“We’re absolutely gutted, there was a lot of emotion at the end of the game and we’re really disappointed about the loss. We play the game to win and ultimately we weren’t able to do that against a good, strong French side,” said England captain Chris Walker.
“They dominated the set piece and that cost us, but we’ve got a massive game against Ireland to look forward to – we’re disappointed, but this will make us stronger.”
The other match of round four was another tight affair only settled five minutes from time when number 8 Dan Baker stole an Italian pass on halfway and raced away to seal a 30-23 victory before a sell-out crowd at Parc Eirias in Colwyn Bay.
Wales had trailed until the hour mark with the visitors causing all kinds of problems for the Welsh pack with their tough scrummaging, Italy going in 17-13 at half time after tries from Guido Calabrese and Leonardo Sarto.
Sam Davies and John Apperley traded penalties in the second half before Wales broke Italian hearts as first 17-year-old Jack Dixon sent Luke Morgan over for the try that gave the home side the lead for the first time and then Baker intercepted to race away.
Wales can finish no lower than fourth in the standings, but will want to finish on a high with victory over France as they build towards the Junior World Championship and a pool with four-time champions New Zealand, Fiji and Samoa.