Wales U20 suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of a much better Ireland U20 side at the Arms Park on Friday night with Ioan Cunningham and his coaches left with a lot to ponder.
It was the hosts who started the game on the front foot as a big Carwyn Tuipulotu carry and then an Efan Daniel turnover, but a lack of accuracy at the set piece and in attack cost us the chance to put early points on the board.
Instead it was Ireland who had the dominant first half as their continued success at the gain line and ability to capitalise on the quick ball created resulted in plenty of try scoring opportunity.
After twice being held up over the line it eventually fell to inside centre Cathal Forde to offer himself on a crash ball line from one of the resulting scrums and power over for the opening score, with Jamie Osborne adding the extras from in front of the posts.
Wales did try to get back into the game as a few phases strung together and the away side tempted offside, but Sam Costelow’s kick struck the outside of the post and the men in green made him pay as they took advantage of their power carrying and some weak defending to work up the field before Chris Cosgrave came off his wing to go under the posts.
Nathan Doak added the extras and was on hand to add three more points a few moments later, with Wales once again failing to convert field position into posts when another Daniel turnover took us into the Irish 22.
Some changes at the half saw bulk added to the Welsh pack as Christ Tshiunza and James Fender took the field, but it was an error on kick chase that allowed Ireland to immediately extend their lead as Dan John over-chased a clearing box kick allowing Doak to return with ease before exchanging passes with Cosgrave and going over out wide for an unconverted score.
However, this finally sparked Wales into life as a clever Costelow kick pinned Ireland in their own 22 and Ben Moxham erroneously touched the ball down behind his own line. Tshiunza carried well from the resulting scrum and even though the ball went loose, Alex Mann was on hand to scoop up possession and dive over.
A tight 10 minutes followed with the score at 5-22, before Doak added three more points to score, but then Wales struck back as we pushed into the opposition 22 and Shane Jennings was yellow carded for killing the ball with the try line beckoning.
The hosts kicked to the corner and although the driving maul and subsequent close range carries were repelled, a sharp backs move saw Sam Costelow and Ioan Evans combine to put Joe Hawkins into space. The inside centre’s long pass was perfect for Carrick McDonough to run on to and the winger got over out wide.
Unfortunately, despite the man advantage, Wales shot themselves in the foot from the restart as a botched clearance resulted in a penalty being conceded, with Doak adding three more points to the score, before McDonough was shown a yellow card for cynically slapping the ball from Doak’s hands.
Ireland subsequently kicked to the corner and a powerful maul rolled over the try line with Daniel Okeke in possession as the bonus point was secured. With just a few minutes left on the clock they were back in the corner and although the initial drive was stopped short this time, Alex Kendellen was on hand to dive over and make the final score 12-40 at the Arms Park.
Although there were improvements in the second half with the introduction of Christ Tshiunza and Ethan Lloyd in particular, as well as small flashes of individual skill, in truth the Welsh side were well and truly beaten by a faster, stronger and much better drilled Irish side.
Particularly when it comes to defensive organisation, attacking shape and kick chase there needs to be big improvements from Wales before facing France on Thursday.