Ireland put a couple of disappointing seasons behind them to shock England at Musgrave Park on Friday and get their Six Nations U20 campaign off to the perfect start.
Having narrowly avoided relegation from the World Rugby U20 Championship in their last competitive outing seven months ago, Ireland found another gear to claim a 35-27 bonus-point win against the side they will meet again at age-grade international rugby’s marquee event in Argentina in June.
England lived up to their pre-match favourites tag with a couple of early tries from Cadan Murphy and Tom Willis, following an early penalty from Ireland’s Harry Byrne, but Ireland hit back with Dylan Tierney-Martin crossing for the first of his two tries, which Byrne improved.
Josh Hodge brilliantly ran in England’s third, with Marcus Smith once again converting, before Byrne kicked another penalty and Scott Penny scored Ireland’s second. Smith closed out the half with his fourth successful kick at goal to give last year’s beaten U20 Championship finalists a four-point lead at the break.
Ireland's Tierney-Martin had a second soon after the restart, bundling over off the back of a driving maul before Tom Hardwick and Byrne traded penalties.
Ireland lost Michael Milne to the sin-bin for persistent scrum infringements, but they held out, scrum-half Cormac Foley scoring a late converted try to seal a morale-boosting victory.
Ireland travel to Scotland in round two, while England and France re-enact last June’s U20 Championship final in Beziers.
High fives for Italy and France
Ever-improving Italy also got off to a winning start on Friday evening, coming away from the Scottish Borders with a 32-22 victory.
The visitors held the lead at the break after Matteo Nocera finished off a simple try before Scotland turned it around through Connor Boyle and Charlie Jupp.
Niccolo Taddia and Federico Mori put the Italians back in front and, despite a reply from Rufus McClean with 10 minutes left, full-back Jacopo Trulla secured the win late on.
Italy will now look to make it two wins from two against Wales in Mantova next Sunday.
The final act of the weekend in Vannes on Sunday began with World Rugby U20 Championship star performer Louis Carbonel kicking a penalty to put France 3-0 up.
Sacha Zegueur, who was sent off at the end of the game, crossed for his side's first try but not before Joe Roberts had put the visitors in front. Cai Evans and Carbonel then traded penalties but Matthis Lebel’s try gave Les Bleuets a 17-10 half-time lead.
Wales were not able to add any further points in the second half and France secured a hard-fought victory thanks to tries from Killian Geraci and Vincent Pinto – the second coming after Zegueur had seen red for a dangerous tackle – and a further penalty and conversion from Carbonel.