Under-20s Six Nations: Ireland 23-22 Italy - Holders secure narrow win

Finn Treacy and Jacopi Botturi

Under-20s Six Nations

Ireland (15) 23

Tries: O'Connell, O'Connor, Edogbo Cons: J Murphy Pens: J Murphy 2

Italy (17) 22

Tries: Scalabrin 2, Gritti Cons: Pucciariello 2 Pens: Pucciariello

Ireland ground out a 23-22 victory over an inspired Italy at Virgin Media Park to maintain their perfect start to the Under-20s Six Nations Championship.

Tries from captain Evan O'Connell and man-of-the-match Ben O'Connor in the first half, and a late winning score by Sean Edogbo gave the hosts success.

Italy's scores came from the impressive Marco Scalabrin (2) and Piero Gritti.

Ireland, who beat world champions France last week, move second behind England in the championship table.

This was a reality check for the Irish who stuttered at times but fought back bravely to deny an Italian outfit who showed their future is bright.

Following last week's superb victory in Provence, hopes were high with the home fans of a fast start in Cork.

However, a fourth-minute Jack Murphy penalty was all Ireland had to show for their domination in territory and possession in the opening 20 minutes.

They extended their lead when captain O'Connell touched down under the posts from a tap-penalty five-metres out, thanks to some help from Bryn Ward and Luke Murphy. Jack Murphy made no mistake from the tee to add the extra two.

The visitors did not roll over and had a try of their own just three minutes later.

After getting a huge drive at the scrum, fly-half Martino Pucciariello - son of ex-Munster prop Freddie - played a neat inside ball to Scalabrin and the winger raced through a gap to score. Pucciariello's conversion reduced the margin to three once more.

The hosts appeared to be spurred on by Italy's response and went on the attack immediately, being rewarded with their second score on the half-hour mark.

A powerful maul put Ireland on the front foot, before centre Wilhelm de Klerk made a half break, before finding a free hand to offload to O'Connor, and the full-back launched himself over to score.

Straight from the restart, the Irish made a mess of proceedings and Scalabrin collected the loose ball to run in and score his second try of the night. Pucciariello's conversion reduced it to a one-point game, before he stepped up on the stroke of half-time to land a penalty and put the visitors 17-15 up at the break.

After a strong start for the visitors in the second period, it was Ireland who re-took the lead on the hour mark thanks to a Jack Murphy penalty. However, the Azzurri hit back on 66 minutes as they refused to give up the fight.

The Irish defence were caught narrow as Italy moved the ball wide right.

The impressive Scalabrin turned creator with a powerful run, shaking off three tackles, before providing a beautiful offload to Gritti, who dived over in the corner. Pucciariello missed with the conversion but the Italians led by four.

With six minutes remaining Hugh Gavin spun the ball onto the right flank where Edogbo hammered towards the try-line, bulldozing Mirko Belloni to touch down. The conversion was just wide though, but it didn't matter as the men in green held on for victory.

Ireland U20: O'Connor; Treacy, de Klerk, Gavin, McLaughlin; J.Murphy, Coffey; Usanov, Smyth, Boyd; Spicer, O'Connell (capt); Hopes, Ward, L.Murphy.

Replacements: Sheahan, Howard, Bell, Corrigan, Edogbo, Brophy, Naughton, Graham

Italy U20: Belloni; Scalabrin, Zanandrea, Bozzo, Elettri; Pucciariello, Casilio; Pisani, Gasperini, Gallorini; Redondi, Gritti; Zucconi, Bellucci, Botturi

Replacements: Siciliano, Pellicciolli, Ascari, Milano, D'Alessandro, Jimenez, Fusari, de Villiers