A WELCOME warm glow of satisfaction enveloped Musgrave Park on a bitterly-cold Friday night last as Ireland U20s managed to overcome a big, strong English side.
Not only did they grab at the end what would have seemed, earlier in the game, an unlikely bonus-point victory, but they also deprived their much-vaunted visitors of a losing bonus point as Ireland ran out winners by eight points. In the thick of it all were two promising young West Cork players – Josh Wycherley from Kealkil and John Hodnett from Rosscarbery, neither place noted as rugby strongholds any more than Fermanagh and Fiji are for hurling.
Loose-head prop forward Josh Wycherley, a brother of Munster second row and flanker Fineen, was solid throughout the first 56 minutes he was on and really made his mark when he had to come back on again for another 10 minutes after his replacement, Michael Milne, was sin-binned and Ireland were under the cosh defending with just 14 men. He is seen by many as an even brighter prospect than his big brother, who has set the bar very high with his progress thus far.
However, it was No 8 John Hodnett who really emerged from below the radar with his display across the park, given the number of carries he made and metres gained, as well as the tackles he made, staking a strong claim for the man of the match award, which went to hooker Dylan Tierney-Martin, who scored two of Ireland’s four tries. In a similar mould to CJ Stander, West Cork has another fine rugby star in the making in John Hodnett.
Looking at the two teams warming up before the game, the sheer size of the English side – some of whom have regular first team Aviva Premiership experience – made one fear for the onslaught that the lighter-looking Irish lads were about to face.
Undeterred by this, Ireland gave as good as they got and, while they were chasing the game for the greater part of it, they never allowed England to pull away too far ahead and reined them in in the end with great spirit and perseverance. Harry Byrne got Ireland 3-0 up from a penalty early on.
In the first 16 minutes, England only got inside the Irish ‘22’ three times but come away with two tries – the first of them by Cadan Murley a very soft one to concede, while Tom Willis dotted down the second one, both converted by Marcus Smith. Tierney Martin got the first of his two tries for Ireland on the half-hour mark, converted by Byrne, to reduce the deficit to 14-10, however Ireland almost immediately conceded a third try, scored by Josh Hodge and converted again by Smith.
Harry Byrne scored a penalty for Ireland and then his Leinster colleague Scott Penny got a try at the base of the post, converted by Byrne, and Marcus Smith completed the first half scoring with a penalty for England on the stroke of half-time, which left them only 24-20 ahead at the interval despite their first half dominance.
Ireland went a point ahead when Tierney-Martin got his second try from a driving maul, as Ireland took the lead for the first time in the game, but Byrne missed the conversion. Tom Hardwick put England two ahead from a penalty kick, but Byrne replied with a similar score to put Ireland 28-27 in front.
In an exciting finish, both sides defended well until Ireland sub Cormac Foley crossed the line for a try, converted by Byrne, to seal a deserved 35-27 win, ecstatically greeted by the home crowd. With the senior men’s and ladies’ team capitulating badly to England in Dublin at the weekend, the U20s provided a beacon of hope for Irish rugby.
- This Friday evening, February 8th, Ireland U20s face Scotland U20s away at Netherdale at 7.30pm and both Hodnett and Wycherely have been named in the starting line-up.