The U20 6 Nations Grand Slam remains on for Ireland after they beat France in a thriller on Friday night.
The result, coupled with Scotland’s surprise win over Wales, means that Ireland have already guaranteed the title as they are six points clear of France, their nearest rivals. However the Grand Slam is surely the real target for them at this point.
It was an exciting evening all round in the fourth round of the U20 6 Nations, England securing a bonus point victory against Italy, Ireland winning that thriller against France, and Scotland securing a vital first victory of the campaign against Wales, which sees them rise from the foot of the table to jump above Italy, who beat them in the opening round.
Ireland kicked off against France in front of a sell out 8,000 crowd at Irish Independent Park as the only undefeated side in the tournament. Their opponents are the reigning U20 6 Nations and World Champions, so they knew that this would be a huge test of their Grand Slam credentials.
The hosts trailed 14-13 at half time as the World Champions scored tries trough the superb Louis Carbonel and Jean-Baptiste Gros, Carbonel converting both, in response to an early Josh Wycherley try for Ireland and fly half Ben Healy, who stepped in late for the injured star Harry Byrne.
Healy added two penalties either side of a Carbonel effort early in the second half to re-establish the Irish lead at 19-17 before Wycherley added his second to extend the lead even further.
Carbone kept giving the Irish cause for concern though and when he scored his second the game again looked in the balance. However Callum Reid calmed things down with his try and though France would scored again late on to close the game to 31-29 it was too late for any sort of comeback.
It sets Ireland up for a chance of a Grand Slam when they travel to Wales on Friday night at Colwyn Bay, which ought to be a top class game of U20 rugby.
England, meanwhile, played out in front of a superb sell-out crowd at Bedford Blues’ Goldington Road against Italy on Friday evening.
The hosts led by two points at the break through tries from Tom Seabrook and a lovely solo effort from Kieran Wilkinson before the two Ollie’s, Fox and Sleightholme, scored tries in the second half. Sleightholme’s younger brother Frankie would go on to score at Allianz Park for Northampton School for Boys in the U15 Schools Cup final later in the weekend.
Wilkinson, Josh Hodge, and Manu Vunipola added fifteen points from the tee to finish up with a 35-10 victory, their second of the campaign and a superb response to a last gasp defeat to Wales in the previous round.
Speaking to www.englandrugby.com after the game, England U20 Head Coach Steve Bates said:
“I thought it was a really strong performance in difficult conditions, to come in at 12-10 at half time was a significant factor in the game, scoring those two tries gave us a good foundation in the second half. “
“In the second half I thought we created pressure and played high up the field but we didn’t finish as well as we’d like. The players have made huge progress and it will be really nice to see them show the extent of their progress next week against Scotland where we will be looking to build a bit more continuity in the game.”
Scotland meanwhile finally got their campaign up and truly running with an excellent 27-20 defeat of Wales at Meggetland, their first of the campaign. Wales had been looking good all campaign and defeat England last time out, but Scotland finally found their form after three defeats on the bounce to claim the victory.
At the same time it handed Ireland the title, denying Wales the chance to take the crown when they host Ireland next week, instead all they can do is attempt to deny Ireland the Grand Slam.
For Scotland it is a key game against England at Northampton Saints’ Frankin’s Gardens, both sides looking to end shaky campaigns on a high. Italy meanwhile will want a win in order to regain fifth place from Scotland, particularly having impressed at times through the campaign. France though will not make life easy having lost out to Ireland at the weekend.
U20 6 Nations Round 4 Results
England 35-10 Italy
Ireland 31-29 France
Scotland 27-20 Wales
U20 6 Nations Round 5 Fixtures:
England v Scotland (Friday 15th March, 7.45pm, Northampton)
Italy v France (Friday 15th March, 6pm, Piedmont)
Wales v Ireland (Friday 15th March, 7.05pm, Colwyn Bay)
U20 6 Nations Table
France 42-27 Scotland
Italy 14-34 Ireland
Wales 11-10 England
England 31-19 France
Italy 12-42 Wales
Scotland 5-24 Ireland
France 32-10 Wales
Ireland 35-27 England
Scotland 22-32 Italy