England Under 20s got their RBS 6 Nations title defence off to the perfect start with a 15-6 win over Scotland at Brickfields in Plymouth, while there were also wins for Wales and France on the opening weekend of the Championship.
In front of healthy crowd of almost 5,000, Tommy Allan booted Scotland into an early 3-0 lead and the visitors continued to have the better of the first half until going a man down on 27 minutes.
With increased pressure being applied up front, the visitors’ pack collapsed one scrum too many and England were awarded a penalty try, which Henry Slade converted in the wet and muddy conditions.
Allan struck his second penalty on 34 minutes, with the help of an upright, to reduce the half-time deficit to a single point as Scotland’s hopes of avenging two 50+ point losses in their two previous Six Nations meetings grew.
Slade took one of the three chances that came his way from the kicking tee in the second half to put England 10-6 ahead, but the win was only sealed when prop Luke Cowan-Dickie, who is dual-registered with Exeter and Plymouth, touched down with five minutes to go to the delight of the home crowd.
England captain Jack Clifford hopes the narrow victory will act as a stepping stone to better performances down the line in a season which concludes with the IRB Junior World Championship in France from 5-23 June.
“We didn’t play as well as we can and that’s a credit to Scotland,” he said. “The pitch began to cut up and it wasn’t easy to play the quick rugby we know that we can, but we’re happy with the win and it gives us something to build on.”
Wales and Ireland have enjoyed some tight tussles in recent years and Friday’s match at Parc Eirias in Colwyn Bay was no exception, an exciting end to end affair which went right down to the wire.
France survive Italian scare
North Wales born Dion Jones scored Wales’ only try and fly half Sam Davies kicked 12 points as the hosts side ground out a 17-15 victory.
Ireland captain and scrum half Luke McGrath produced an inspired display and scored his side’s opening try, but despite Tom Daly also touching down they were unable to capitalise on six missed kicks at goal by Davies.
“We need to cut down on the penalty count and work on our scrummaging – but there were a lot of positives, from our continuity to our tackling,” said Ireland coach Mike Ruddock.
“We outscored them by two tries to one and feel that there is a lot we can improve on. It is a learning process for the boys. Of course we are disappointed not to win but we can take a lot from the game and look for a better performance the next time out. That’s what it is all about.”
Ireland will welcome England – a side they shared the spoils with at JWC 2012 in South Africa with one win each – to Athlone this Friday in round two, while Wales face France at Parc Des Sports Marcel Michelin, the home of Clermont Auvergne.
France Under 20s meanwhile proved to be their country’s only winners in the opening round after battling past a spirited Italian side 13-6 in Sicily.
Enzo Selponi's first-half try was enough to secure the victory over the Azzurrini, the only one of the Six Nations teams who will not be at JWC 2013, rather at the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy in Chile hoping to secure a return to the elite tier in 2014.
The Italians will draw confidence from the match as they travel to Scotland next week, while Les Bleuets will need to improve greatly on this showing if they are to claim their first title since 2008.