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Agony for Ireland as a gutsy England clinch Six Nations U20s title

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Mark Mapletoft’s six-try England have denied Richie Murphy’s Ireland a hat-trick of successive Six Nations U20s title following another incredible night of international age-grade rugby.

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The Irish closed out a hard-fought five-try, 36-0 win over Scotland in Cork, their last three tries coming in the closing 10 minutes, and it left England needing to beat world champions France in Pau to take the glory.

Behind 12-21 at the break in a match that started an hour later than the Irish, the English pulled level at 31-all on 59 minutes before moving 38-31 ahead four minutes later with a penalty try.

Video Spacer

Joel Kpoku on life in the very physical French Top 14

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Joel Kpoku on life in the very physical French Top 14

Another converted score with the French a player down to a yellow card closed out the inspired 45-31 success, clinching England a first Six Nations title since the behind-closed-doors championship of 2021.

Having shared a 32-all draw last week in Bath, the English went into the final round one point ahead of Ireland on the table, with a superior +59 to +42 points difference.

Fixture
U20 Six Nations
France U20
31 - 45
Full-time
England U20
All Stats and Data

Ireland kicked off 60 minutes before England started and the winless Scots initially frustrated the Irish, holding them scoreless until the 21st minute until winger Hugo McLaughlin got in at the corner for a try expertly converted by Jack Murphy.

That breakthrough wasn’t the prompt for the Irish to go on and dominate, however. Instead, their scrum leaked a succession of momentum-draining penalties and they reached the interval without adding to their 7-0 lead.

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By the time they returned to begin their second half, England were kicking off in France with a bang as Ben Redshaw royally took advantage of a French fumble to run from deep inside his own half and score an unconverted try with less than a minute played.

This lead pushed England back on top of the as-it-stood table, but the night’s edge-of-seat drama was only getting going. Irish replacement tighthead Patreece Bell’s scrum penalty win allowed Murphy to kick for a 10-0 lead on 50 minutes, and this was quickly followed in France by the English sloppily relinquishing their lead from scrum ball.

Archie McParland whipped out an aimless pass from the halfway set-piece and the loose ball was snapped up Theo Attissogbe. A magnificent offload in the tackle followed from Leon Darricarrere and away streaked the full-back Mathis Ferte to score the 13th-minute try converted by Hugo Reus for a 7-5 advantage.

The next score arrived over in Cork, Ireland skipper and eventual player of the match Evan O’Connell getting in for an unconverted 60th minute try off pick-and-go to push his team 15-0 clear, and this was quickly followed by massive developments back in Pau where England conceded two converted tries in two minutes to fall 5-21 behind on 27 minutes.

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A show of power from the pack, which included Posolo Tuilagi on the charge, sucked in the visitors near the line on the right and when the ball was flashed inwards, Kalvin Gourgues had too much momentum for Ben Waghorn.

Reus converted from in front of the posts and he was doing the same thing quickly after following an audacious piece of play that he instigated with a crosskick in his own 22 that found Attissogbe on the far wing.

Fixture
U20 Six Nations
Ireland U20
36 - 0
Full-time
Scotland U20
All Stats and Data

Despite having Redshaw closing down fast, he nonchalantly executed a grubber kick, ran around his marker, collected and passed clear to the supporting Ferte, who then gave skipper Leo Carbonneau an easy run-in from distance.

The bonus point try would have been bagged on 33 minutes had Maxence Biasotto backed himself to score rather than flop a pass to Reus and this let-off critically allowed the wounded England to hit back three minutes later with hooker James Isaacs scoring from a maul and Sean Kerr converting to cut the margin to 12-21.

Meanwhile, Ireland suddenly found a new gear to impressively close out their win. Sub hooker Danny Sheahan was mauled over on 71 minutes with the Scots down a player to a yellow card. Sean Edogbo next added the bonus point try six minutes later, and the clock had ticked into the 83rd minute when Sheahan added his second and his team’s fifth try.

Murphy converted all three tries to make the final score 36-0, leaving his team four points clear at the top of the as-it-stood table and waiting to see what would unfold in the second half in Pau.

England now knew for certain that they needed a bonus-point win to be crowned champions and their third try arrived just three minutes after the restart, Isaacs striking from another lineout maul. Kerr’s conversion left the score 19-21.

What followed was an electric passage at both ends of the field. France, attacking from their own 10-metre line on 46 minutes, finished an excellent team move with Mathis Castro arcing around Ioan Jones for the four-try bonus point that was added to by Reus.

Their delight, though, was quickly neutralised as Jones perfectly timed an intercept inside his own half to embark on the fantastic run that got him to the line. The try was unconverted but it meant that England now had the four-try bonus point and their only focus now was overturning the 24-28 margin to win the game and claim the title.

France struck next, Reus putting over a 57th-minute penalty kick following a scrum infringement, but England were quickly level with a peach of a converted 59th-minute try.

McParland was smart with his delayed pass to put skipper Finn Carnduff in through a gap and the supporting Henry Pollock galloped over to leave George Makepeace-Cubitt to make it at 31-all with his kick.

Come the 63rd minute the visitors were 38-31 ahead courtesy of a penalty try after a lineout maul was collapsed at the line by the yellow-carded Thomas Duchene.

This numerical advantage was then exploited by some more powerful driving six minutes later, sub prop Jimmy Halliwell the beneficiary when play switched inside.

Kerr, who was back on the kicking duties, converted to stretch the gap to 45-31, meaning France needed two converted tries to force the draw that would wrest the title from England and hand it back to Ireland.

The hosts couldn’t make any headway, not even after sub loosehead Scott Kirk was yellow-carded, and it left Mapletoft’s team the champions after yet another epic night’s age-grade entertainment.

Roll on the Junior World Championship in South Africa in June!

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