Australia scored two tries to one in their opening game of of the Junior World Championships at Vannes but Ireland deserved their 19-15 win.
The key moment happened at 76 minutes when Australia was driving a maul from a lineout near the Ireland goal line going for the winning try, but Australian lock Senio Toleafoa was yellow carded for foul play.
At 24 minutes Ireland pierced a soft Aussie defensive midfield and winger Rory Scholes dotted down in the corner too easily. Inside centre Tom Daly slotted a difficult goal from touch and, having kicked an earlier penalty, made the score 10-0.
After 30 minutes UJ Seutini kicked an easy penalty for a 10-3 score against them but they were struggling. Then, just before oranges, Australia got a penalty close to the Ireland line and drove the lineout maul over for a try. Who would have thunk it? At half time they were back in the game just 8-10 behind, though they didn’t deserve to be.
In the second half Ireland kicked two penalties earned by pressure and keeping Oz in their own half.
With just 9 minutes left in the game Ireland dropped the pill on contact and Aussie winger Northam, who hardly got the ball in the game, received it from replacement hooker Ready on his own 22, and ran under the Ireland posts to score.
With the easy conversion Australia were only one point down at 15-16.
But then they fluffed the restart kick and once again Ireland earned a penalty and got to a more comfortable lead of 19-15. Australia would have to score a try to win.
They nearly did: with 4 minutes to go they had a lineout about seven metres out from the Ireland line after a penalty kick got them there, but their maul was pulled down. It looked like a penalty to Oz but Toleafoa had committed foul play, as mentioned.
There was one last chance as Oz had a scrum close to the Ireland 22 with two minutes to go but the Ireland scrum dominated them, just one more time, and that was it.
The Northam long-range try disguised the shortcomings of the young Aussies and Ireland were clearly the better side.
They are a modest team but they were better drilled and looked like products of a better system of learning the game and I don’t mean just after their squad was picked. It was interesting to hear the commentators say that a lot of the Ireland players hadn’t played in the Six Nations Under 20 tournament because they looked like they had played together a lot.
They played to their strengths. They were better disciplined and their players played with older heads. At the ruck they often found few Aussies around to contest for the ball because there was a wide, gold defensive line against a narrow Ireland attack. Yet the few times Ireland spun the ball they usually gained ground and they soon identified the weakness in the Australian midfield defence.
Their scrum was light but their technique was superior and they hardly missed a hit, and when they put on a second push the Aussies didn’t seem to know what it was.
Their lineout was just solid in the first half but in the second they attacked the short Aussie lineout throws and won a few.
They probably won’t get anywhere near the Kiwi team because they won’t have the relentless, barbaric style needed to beat them, but they could be one of the second-place Pool teams to progress if they have a good win against Fiji.
I kept waiting for them to start playing but then I realised that they weren’t good enough to. They were beaten in most aspects of rugby and especially in keeping their discipline at key moments — and some of their passing in the first half was lucky-dip stuff.
In the second half they were fielding long kicks with opportunities to attack but they seemed to want to enter into kicking duels and it was like watching a cow play cricket.
It was obvious that Oz had a match winner in Placid if he got a bit of ball, but he didn’t get much — and it was a surprise when I saw winger Northam score his excellent try, because I forgot that he was playing.
The scrums were poor and it was especially galling to watch them when the big bopper Oz reserve props came on and were stood up.
Northam deserves the Oz man of the match because his runaway try was a honey and it brought back his team back from the brink.
I thought lock Senio Toleafua was the most physical Aussie forward and had a go, but he spoiled all his tough work at the end of the match. Dempsey had a good game for a young bloke playing out of position on the openside, and hooker Ngauamo looked very handy early, but it was the collective effort of the Aussie forwards that was wanting in general play.
In the backs scrummie Meehan was the only good kicker in the team and cleared the Oz line a couple of times with long box kicks to touch.
Some Aussie rugby fans will get on their keyboards to the criticise Oz Under 20 coaches, because it’s what they do. But though you could see some shortcomings in the game plan and goofy things like kicking duels, you could also see that the unspectacular Ireland players came to France as better coached, long-term, and played an older game.
It was team-focused whereas the Aussies seemed to lack any focus at all.
Well done Ireland !!!
Try: Rory Scholes Conversion: Tom Daly Penalty Goals: Daly (4)
Try: Rory Scholes
Conversion: Tom Daly
Penalty Goals: Daly (4)
Tries: Tom Staniforth, Alex Northam Conversion: Luke Burton Penalty Goal: UJ Seutini
Tries: Tom Staniforth, Alex Northam
Conversion: Luke Burton
Penalty Goal: UJ Seutini