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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.


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

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.”


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.


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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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

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