Carrick-on-Shannon’s Shane Layden once again played a pivotal role for Ireland as they recorded their third win of the U-20 Six Nations Championship when they defeated Italy in Athlone on Friday night last.
Italy, playing their first match in this season’s championship, made the much brighter start and deserved their early lead when Riccardo Della Rossa (who was short with a 2nd minute penalty) landed an eighth minute placekick. But Ireland levelled just four minutes later when their first real raid led to Patrick Jackson’s penalty. At the end of the first quarter, Italian prop Antonio Brandolini was yellow carded for slowing possession and Jackson steered his penalty over for a lead that Ireland would not relinquish.
Further indiscipline by the visitors yielded a third Jackson penalty after 32 minutes as Ireland began to dictate but they could not quite match their finish to the approach play. Italy, who were not helped by a feeble attempt with a 35th minute penalty, then sustained their second sin-binning just before the break when Matteo Ferro infringed. Jackson added to their punishment with a terrific penalty after missing a placekick moments earlier and Ireland led 12-3 at halftime.
Ireland restarted on the offensive with Conor Finn being denied a try when Shane Layden’s pass was deemed forward. Italy lost outhalf Della Rossa following a clash of heads with Chris Farrell which caused a lengthy stoppage and Ireland lost their impetus for a spell afterwards despite Jackson adding his fifth penalty before the hour mark.
Ireland just could not impose total control on the proceedings and they paid dearly for an ill-judged tap and go at a 68th minute penalty close to the Italy line. The visitors snaffled possession and centre Michele Campagnaro made a wonderful bold break before off-loading to wing Alex Morsellino who went steaming down the right flank for a stunning opportunist try. Although Micheal Odiete could not add the conversion, the game was now in the melting pot with Ireland just 15-8 ahead of the persistent Italians.
But just four minutes later, fine handling by Jackson, Layden and substitute Aaron Conneely from right to left spread the Italian defence and Iain Henderson got in for a try, awarded after referral to the TMO. Layden was whistled back for a knock-on shortly afterwards but the ever eager Buccaneers player got in for a smashing try on the right corner of his home ground in an almost replica of his touchdown against Wales. Jackson landed a splendid conversion to seal the 27-8 victory that builds Ireland’s momentum.
Lock Henderson, who was denied a second try when his foot went into touch, was named a worthy winner of the ‘Electric Ireland Man of the Match’ accolade. Jordan Coghlan had a fine first half and Conor Gilsenan put in a huge effort in the pack.
In the backline, Foster Horan was lively throughout, Jackson had a decent outing at standoff while Layden and Farrell always threatened when in possession. There is room for further improvement and It took Ireland time to get firing on all cylinders but they stuck to the task on hand, their endeavour never wavered, and they looked a right good unit when their link up play clicked when it had to in the final quarter.
Ireland face Scotland next in Dubarry Park, Athlone on Friday, March 9.