Nigel Carolan’s young Irish squad got their tournament off to a fine start with a win over Italy in atrocious weather at the Stadio Lamarmora in Biella. With snow piled up around the pitch and rain pouring down on it, the surface was reduced to near bog-like conditions, with players caked in mud within minutes of kickoff. Even so both sides contributed to an entertaining spectacle, with each scoring tries through expansive rugby.
The Italians caught their hosts by surprise almost right away, with flanker Dennis Bergamin storming onto a short offload from halfback Luca Petrozzi to dive in under the sticks. A good team responds promptly from such threats, and Ireland did just that, settling things down and driving over a rolling maul with Josh Murphy the man in the end who came up with the ball.
Murphy, along with second rowers David O’Connor and Alex Thompson, gave Italy fits in the lineout, denying them any quality ball, and surely contributing to the woeful throwing performance of Luhandre Luus. The South African import could be excused given that he is a very recent convert to the front row, and in fairness his contributions in the loose, particularly with ball in hand, certainly suggested he has a future in the Italian setup.
Maicol Azzolini slotted a penalty goal to restore the Italian lead, but once again it was short lived as a display of class from Garry Ringrose put speedster Greg O’Shea in the clear. Ross Byrne made the conversion look easy, as he did all night, and Ireland were on the up for the remainder of the match. Another rolling maul yielded a score for Rory Moloney, and after some excellent passing ended with Luca Sperandio scoring in the corner, it was hooker Zack McCall’s turn to get on the scoreboard as he charged down Petrozzi’s clearance attempt from the base and stepped inside the Italian cover to notch a very neat score.
The second half was all Ireland on the scoreboard with 19 unanswered points, but credit to Italy who never gave up and just couldn’t quite break through a strong Irish defense. Joey Carbery popped up a lovely pass for Billy Dardis to run on to, Nick McCarthy dove over after a cheeky pick and spin move, and big lock Cian Romaine, who impressed in his 20-odd minutes, rounded things off on the end of another close range pack effort.
On a day best designed for players to perform badly, a number put their hands up for future honours. Byrne was probably the most impressive, totally confident and nearly faultless with his kicking from hand and tee. Ringrose looked to have time on the ball every time he touched it, and Carbery showed good awareness and footballing skill playing out of position on the wing.
The Irish pack in its entirety went well, though it’s difficult to pick out any individuals, partly because of the nature of their contribution but also because it was hard to tell who was who much of the time in between the mud and steam rising from the pile ups. Murphy and Moloney on the flanks seemed to be involved in numerous occasions, with each notching a try for their efforts, and McCall was pretty handy, taking his try opportunity very well.
Italy can’t be too upset with their performance. The lineout troubles cost them at least three scores, and at least it’s something they can improve with time. The backs went surprisingly well, with Sperandio and fellow winger Yannick Agbasse looking dangerous and fullback Giacomo de Santis a very composed performer. Azzolini’s move to flyhalf wasn’t quite a rousing success, but there’s no doubting his footballing skills.
Up front they had no problems with the physicality and the scrum looked fine. Luus was the most notable physical specimen, and Bergamin along with Renato Giammarioli standouts in the back row. Paolo Buonfiglio got around the pitch well, but there was perhaps a lack of a big assertive body to really disrupt the more physical Irish forwards.
A good start to the tournament, and hopefully the weather will cooperate a little more going forward and we get to really see what these two teams can do. Irish fans shouldn’t get over the top with the scoreline, but there was plenty to be excited about, and every reason to think this side can compete with the best the tournament has to offer.
ITALY u20 15 vs 47 IRELAND u20
Friday, February 6, 18:00 GMT, Biella
02 mins – D. Bergamin try 5-0
03 mins – M. Azzolini con 7-0
06 mins – J. Murphy try 7-5
07 mins – R. Byrne con 7-7
12 mins – M. Azzolini pen 10-7
16 mins – G. O’Shea try 10-12
17 mins – R. Byrne con 10-14
29 mins – R. Moloney try 10-19
30 mins – R. Byrne con 10-21
32 mins – L. Sperandio try 15-21
37 mins – Z. McCall try 15-26
38 mins – R. Byrne try 15-28
44 mins – B. Dardis try 15-33
62 mins – N. McCarthy try 15-38
62 mins – R. Byrne con 15-40
78 mins – C. Romaine try 15-45
79 mins – R. Byrne con 15-47
G. de Santis; L. Sperandio, M. Gabbianelli, E. Lucchin, Y. Agbasse (T. Beraldin 71); M. Azzolini (M. Minozzi 61), L. Petrozzi (R. Raffaele 50); D. Dallavalle (F. Pavesi 61), L. Luus (V. Barbuscia 71), P. Buonfiglio (capt.) (E. Makelara 75); D. Zanetti, D. Fragnito (U. D’Onofrio 62); M. Archetti, D. Bergamin (M. Cornelli 58), R. Giammarioli.
B. Dardis; J. Owens, G. Ringrose, F. Cleary (S. Arnold 64), G. O’Shea (J. Carbery 34); R. Byrne, N. McCarthy (capt.) (J. Cullen 67); J. Loughman (M. Lagan 67), Z. McCall (A. McBurney 64), O. Heffernan (C. O’Donnell 58); D. O’Connor (C. Romaine 58), A. Thompson; J. Murphy, R. Moloney, L. Dow (N. Timoney HT).
Referee: D. Jones (WRU)
Assistants: S. Rees (WRU) & J. Hardy (WRU)
TMO: G. Simmonds (WRU)