By Jon Newcombe
Wales struck an early psychological blow ahead of their meeting with Ireland at IRB Junior World Championship 2014 in New Zealand after recording a 16-0 win over their Pool B rivals in the second round of the Under 20 Six Nations.
Both sides will certainly hope for better conditions than they encountered at Dubarry Park on Friday when they play each other again in Pool B in Pukekohe on 6 June.
Faced with a gale force wind and torrential rain, tries were always going to be hard to come by, and so it proved. Not that life was easy for the kickers either, Ireland’s Ross Byrne and Ethan Davies of Wales both missing their first two attempts at goal.
However Hughes judged his third effort to perfection, purposefully sending it well wide of the posts and allowing the wicked cross wind to do the rest. Davies was unable to repeat his ‘banana kick’ routine when presented with two more opportunities and Wales had to be content with a 3-0 lead at half-time.
Relentless forward pressure at the start of the second half resulted in more penalties going Wales’ way, Davies was on target with his next two kicks as the conditions began to ease.
Wales then struck the killer blow shortly after the hour mark when captain Steffan Hughes - a veteran of the Welsh run to the JWC 2013 final - crossed the try-line after a slick build-up on the Irish 22 and Davies made no mistake with the conversion.
Ireland pressed hard for a consolation score and Ian Fitzpatrick went close, but Wales held firm to the delight of match-winner Hughes.
"The desire the boys showed throughout the game was phenomenal, especially at the end in our defensive set - 80 minutes into the game and we defended superbly,” the Scarlets centre said. “Their attack was very good but I thought the effort we showed was absolutely phenomenal and I'm very proud of the boys."
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Next up for Wales is France, who, along with Ireland and Fiji, find themselves in the same pool as Byron Hayward’s boys at JWC 2014.
With both sides boasting a record of two wins from two the clash at Parc Eirias on 22 February could go a long way to deciding this year’s Six Nations champions.
France followed up their opening day success over England with a 34-0 rout of Italy in Agen. Second row Arthur Iturria starred with a try in each half and he was joined on the scoresheet by wing Kylan Hamdaoui and replacement Francois Fontaine.
England, meanwhile, got their Under 20 Six Nations title defence back on track with a 48-15 win over Scotland in Galashiels. Tries from wings Henry Purdy and Zach Kibirige (2), centres Nick Tompkins and Tom Stephenson, second row Maro Itoje and number 8 James Chisholm set England on their way as fly half Billy Burns added nine points, and replacement fly half Sam Olver scored four.
England coach Nick Walshe said: “We’re pleased to get the win – we knew it would be a tough game, and so it proved. Scotland fronted up but I’m pleased that we were able to perform well and score some nice tries.
“We’ve got a bit of time off now, so we’ll look at the game and then regroup before we take on Ireland in Northampton – our first home game, and one we’re really looking forward to.”
By Jon Newcombe