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The Faloon, O’Connell verdict as Ireland U20s soothe Italian pain

By Liam Heagney
Ireland skipper Evan O'Connell in action against Italy (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

Numerous winning teams caught the eye on Saturday across the opening round of the World Rugby U20 Championship, but Ireland deserve a shout-out for the manner of their comprehensive dismissal of Italy in the middle game at DHL Stadium.

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The Italians had been a pest all season. They schooled the Irish scrum in Dublin in the second half of a pre-Christmas friendly, taking the gloss off what had been a clinical first-half effort by the hosts. They were at it again just seven weeks later, having the chutzpah to lead the Irish coming down the finishing straight in Cork.

A late try rescued the win for Richie Murphy’s team on that occasion but Italy still managed to deny them the four-try bonus point, a mishap that had wounding consequences six weeks later when England pipped the Irish to the Six Nations title… by a point.

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HITS, BUMPS AND HANDOFFS! | The biggest collisions from the U20s World Championships

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That sure hurt and the pain was finally alleviated in Cape Town when Ireland, now under the baton of promoted assistant Willie Faloon following Murphy’s exit to Ulster, took the Italians to the cleaners once they overcame the early wobble that was falling 5-10 behind.

Ireland impressively ‘won’ the remaining 70 minutes 50 points to 5 despite a couple of yellow cards and it enthused Faloon no end. “For everybody, it was a big day,” he told RugbyPass in the aftermath of the Pool B opener.

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“Yes, a little bit of added pressure as head coach but look, it was a really good experience. I thought the management staff and the coaching group were really good, they really helped me out and I am very happy with the result.

“I thought the lads were very good for long periods of play. Put together some nice, attacking rugby and they showed what they were all about. In the Six Nations, we were lucky to get away with a result. Italy have a strong set-piece and are a very physical side.”

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So who caught the eye in the demolition? “A couple of guys in the backs did really well, a couple of physical performances in the forwards as well. Evan (O’Connell) really led by example. Luke Murphy had a couple of nice touches. A couple of guys coming off the bench as well, James McKillop, Billy Corrigan did well. Out the backs, Sam Berman was particularly good. Again, guys did well coming off the bench, Sean Naughton.”

Cards were an issue for Ireland at last year’s Championship with a number of players lost to suspension and Saturday’s pair of second-half sin-binnings was a reminder that tackle technique is always a work-on.

“It’s probably making sure we get our height down around our tackle,” agreed Faloon. “I suppose the main thing and the pleasing thing is we managed those quite well and stayed in the game.”

Sunday is a rest day for the Ireland squad before they get stuck into their plan for Georgia next Thursday in Stellenbosch. The Eastern Europeans were a handful for Australia in Athlone, leading 11-6 early in the second half before the Junior Wallabies took full advantage of the new 20-minute red card law trial that had allowed them to bring on a sub for Harvey Cordukes, who was sent off on 26 minutes.

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Irish skipper O’Connell is looking forward to round two. “Quite happy but knowing that we have a big challenge next week again. It was a great game against Italy. We are extremely happy with our performance. We know there is still more in us and looking forward to a good challenge next week.”

Was there a worry when Italy were ahead that they were poised to repeat last February’s mischief? “Not at all. We trust our process, we trust that we can move on to the next job and we put it behind us, took a breath and went again – that’s what happened. We were happy with our first half performance and then backed it up in the second.”

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3 Comments
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Jon 13 days ago

Ireland again looked the second best team, so kudos to Italy’s development, but more so to Ireland for turning things around and coming back. I thought Italy deserved more with a penalty try so obvious with the first card, and even though that really might have done Ireland some mental damage that scoreline suggests they would have dealt with ‘it’ too.

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Tom 1 hours ago
All Blacks snatch another tight victory from England at Eden Park

First up to any of the ABs fans who accused us of “bluster” pre-series for saying it would be a competitive - I'm glad it turned out to be an excellent series to which the ABs were deserving winners and I hope next time a side tours you'll be a little more humble. I loved the heart shown by the English boys and how they managed to contain the AB attack for large parts of the series. Was very disappointed by the lack of cohesion and ambition ball in hand, we looked after the ball poorly and hardly went 2 phases without kicking it away. We're not giving ourselves enough opportunity to put phases together and build pressure. The ambition shown in the 6N against Ireland and France seems to have gone and our players look very hesitant with ball in hand, we look much better when Marcus is taking the ball flat and boys are running hard at the line. So frustrating when we're starting to build pressure in the 22 we go back to the grubber kick then find ourselves back on the half way line 10 seconds later. We've shown great success with our box kicking game but we need to leave the flipping grubber kick in the locker room. Like the Marcus Smith hail Mary miss pass that went straight to Mark Telea, we seem to have no patience. Sometimes we just need to recycle the ball and go again. Loving seeing Maro back to his best and Fin Baxter really impressed, Alex Mitchell looks to be one of the most complete 9s in world rugby, great around the base and impeccable kicking. Congrats to the ABs, far more dangerous and skillful than England. We contained you for large swathes but to shut down that amount of pace and skill for 80 mins is nigh on impossible. Managed to find a way to win and instinctively grabbed the rare opportunities which came your way. Finding ways to win in two tight test matches will I'm sure be a great experience for your younger players. Beauden needs to be in the starting 15, what a worldie.

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