Match Report


Evan O'Connell
Sean Edogbo’s try in front of his home supporters earned Ireland a thrilling 23-22 win over Italy in Cork to make it two from two in the U20 Six Nations.

Last year’s Grand Slam champions were pushed to the limit as Marco Scalabrin scored two tries and made another for the Azzurrini, who were desperately close to a first away win over Ireland at this level.

Ireland started the stronger, eventually making their pressure pay as Evan O’Connell got over for the first try.

But Scalabrin was a constant threat with two first-half tries, and the boot of Martino Pucciarello allowed them to lead 17-15 at the break despite a second Irish try from Ben O’Connor.

Ireland retook the lead through the boot of Jack Murphy in a much tighter second half.

Scalabrin then made a third Italian try, Piero Gritti getting over before Edogbo came off the bench for a brilliant try in the corner.

Italy’s scrum was on top all game and forced a late penalty that gave them a chance to snatch the win. But despite going through the phases and working their way up to the 22, they could not find a way through the Ireland defence and eventually made the mistake that allowed the home side to hang on.

Ireland carried the form that had seen them win in France a week ago into the opening exchanges, setting up camp in Italian territory. Murphy put them in front after three minutes with a penalty.

They followed that up with the opening try, turning down an easy shot at goal to tap and go from close range. Italy made the initial tackle but then could not stop O’Connell on the next charge.

Italy hit back straight away, using their lineout to set up a chance. Pucciarello held the defence well before an inside ball for Scalabrin who ghosted through and fended off two defenders before going over. Pucciarello’s conversion made it 10-7 after 24 minutes.

Ireland were sparked into action by that score, using a big maul to set up territory before Wilhelm de Klerk broke through two tackles and offloaded to put O’Connor over.

But a poor restart – a common theme for both sides – meant that Italy were right back in it, Scalabrin collecting and shaking two tacklers to go over in the corner. With a touchline conversion from Pucciarello, Ireland led just 15-14.

The visitors then hit the front for the first time, Lorenzo Casilio with a break off the back of a maul that led to an Irish offside, the Azzurrini fly-half adding the three.

They had been penalised regularly though and eventually the referee ran out of patience, sending Cesare Zucconi to the sin-bin. Ireland went for the try on the stroke of half-time, but brilliant Italian defence saw the ball ripped before Giacopo Botturi ran the ball from behind his own line out past the 22.

Italy put some pressure on early in the second half but Hugo McLaughlin gambled and picked off a wide pass, racing all the way up to the Italy line. He was hauled down by Scalabrin just short of the line before the Irish support sealed off while looking to secure the ball.

Italy looked like they might extend their lead when they got a scrum five metres out, Marcos Gallorini having wreaked havoc in that sector all night. But smart thinking from Oliver Coffey as the ball spilt loose saved Ireland.

They hit the front with a penalty from knock-on collected in front, Murphy slotting the three after Ireland had earlier turned down some kickable penalties.

Edogbo’s introduction made a difference, first defensively as he got back quicker to Casilio’s kick through, dotting down over his own line.

Italy did retake the lead though, Scalabrin the creator this time, drawing three men to put Gritti over in the right corner after good build-up work from back-three colleagues Mirko Belloni and Lorenzo Elettri in the build-up.

Casilio’s conversion was just wide and that proved crucial when Ireland struck with eight minutes to go, Edogbo showing his pace to crash over in the right corner. Murphy was just off with his conversion attempt and Italy had one final chance but Ireland hung on.