IRELAND’S UNDER-20 SIDE pushed the Baby Blacks of New Zealand to the wire but were edged out of a pulsating contest in France. A mammoth effort, and three fine tries, could not get them home as they lost 31-26 in Vannes.
There was a small chance that Ireland could make the semi-final shakedown as they backed hosts France to turn over South Africa. The Baby Boks triumphed 26-19 to dash Irish dreams of a spot in the last four. England were the team to progress as best runner-up by virtue of a greater points difference (owing largely to a 105-0 win over the USA)
Having previously put Australia and Fiji to the sword in the Junior World Championship group stages, Mike Ruddock’s showed great class and spirit throughout but were ultimately left ruing a slow start to the second half. New Zealand, featuring Sevens star Ardie Savea, were narrowly ahead at the break but burst from the traps in the opening stages of the second 40.
Ireland, who led 3-0 after 11 minutes through a Rory Scannell penalty, went 11-6 behind after 30 minutes when lock Patrick Tuipulotu got over the tryline. However, a wonder try by centre Thomas Farrell, intercepting NZ ball and running in a score from 50 metres, levelled matters.
The tournament favourites cut down on errors and strung phases together to tag on two quick tries in the second half and go 31-16 ahead. It was Farrell’s sin-binning that did the damage as prop Epalahame Faiva and wing Lolagi Visinia scored while he was off the pitch. The Kiwi’s second-half scores came up the left flank with Faiva scoring his second.
David Shanahan came on late as Ireland looked for an elusive late try. (©INPHO/Gwénaël Mahé)
The Irish supporters were given hope of a late fightback when Dan Leavy dived over in the lefthand corner. Luke McGrath then found charging front-row Ed Byrne close to the Kiwi line. He dived low and stretched out, touching down despite the close attentions of three opponents. Rory Scannell slotted over to make it 31-23.
Scannell added a penalty with 11 minutes to go and the gap was just five points, with a Baby Black in the sin-bin for illegally disrupting at the breakdown. Ireland went through 20 phases on or around the New Zealand 22 in the final five minutes but could not find the winning score.
After the match, Ruddock said, “That was a tough battle against quality opposition of course but I am proud of my team, I thought my players were fantastic. The patch after half-time, we were a man down and that was really the crucial time for us in terms of losing that control on the game. New Zealand ran in a couple of tries there.
You have got to give our guys a huge credit, particularly to Luke as captain to rally his troops the way he did, get them back on track, introduce some fresh blood and we worked hard, got back into the game and took it right down to the wire.”