Ireland U20 battle past hosts Georgia
U20 WORLD CHAMPS REPORT: Conor Dean's 73rd-minute penalty edged the Ireland Under-20s to a 24-18 win over hosts Georgia in a pulsating 9th-10th place play-off at the U20 World Championship in Tbilisi.
A two-try burst at the start of the second half from Caelan Doris and captain Paul Boyle also proved crucial for Peter Malone's ninth-place finishers, who ended a difficult tournament on a high thanks to back-to-back play-off victories.
Their injury jinx continued when Calvin Nash - Ireland's top try scorer of the tournament - was forced off in the sixth minute, and Guram Gogichashvili's try cancelled out an Alan Tynan effort for the Junior Lelos to lead 10-7 at half-time.
Although those scores from Doris and Boyle, who were both in talismanic form, saw Ireland assume control at 21-10, impish scrumhalf Gela Aprasidze scored a superb solo try and kicked a penalty to put Georgia back within three points. Yet it was Dean who had the final say, drawing a penalty over before the reinforced Irish defence wore the home side into submission.
It was a helter-skelter start with Georgia launching a number of kick chases in the punishing mid-afternoon sun, but Ireland had the first scoring opportunity. Tynan's sixth-minute grubber kick was reached first by Nash, however the Munster-capped youngster was held up by his opposite number Davit Meskhi and injured himself in the process.
Georgia's scrum, which was dominant against Argentina, won an early penalty against the Irish eight, although loosehead Gogichashvili was clearly not driving straight - a consistent feature of their set piece.
Mark Keane, Nash's replacement on the wing, got a chance to stretch his legs via some slick passing out to the left, the Instonians clubman then chasing his own kick to put Georgia back towards their 22.
Handling errors and turnovers blighted both sides' attacks, with a lengthy injury stoppage for centre Beka Gavashelishvili culminating in him being stretchered off.
It was difficult to build momentum but Ireland finally made the breakthrough at the midpoint of the half. David McCarthy, Ronan Kelleher and Boyle carried strongly off an Oisin Dowling-won lineout, and when play was transferred back to the left, fullback Tynan evaded the clutches of Levan Papidze to make it over in the corner.
Dean ignored the chorus of boos from the home crowd to fire over a terrific conversion from the touchline. The Junior Lelos responded five minutes later, a scrum penalty allowing the multi-talented Aprasidze to squeeze his kick just inside the left hand post for a 7-3 scoreline.
Michael Silvester had to react quickly to prevent a try after the otherwise impressive McCarthy was smashed in a midfield tackle, with Keane also covering back behind his try-line. Despite conceding a free-kick at the resulting scrum, the Georgians hit back with a fast-paced 11-phase attack which ended up with Gogichashvili crashing over by the posts from a short pass by Tedo Abzhandadze.
Aprasidze added the extras and the three-point gap remained in place up to the interval, Ireland having to defend for long spells but excellent maul defence from skipper Boyle and John Foley forced a crucial turnover with half-time in sight.
Georgia were thwarted on the resumption by good breakdown work from Fineen Wycherley and Boyle, and off a lineout on the hosts' 22, replacements Gavin Coombes and Jonny Stewart made an immediate impact. There was plenty of pace and power to the subsequent move, hooker Kelleher barging up close to the posts before Boyle's skip pass put No.8 Doris over just to the right of the posts.
Dean converted and also tagged on the extras to Boyle's try only five minutes later. The Gorey man timed his run to perfection, bursting onto a Stewart pass to score from five metres out. Silvester had led the attack, breaking a tackle and stretching Georgia on the right wing before Gavin Mullin and Dean also gained ground closer in.
Ireland were now dictating, using the kick chase to good effect off a 70 precent share of possession. However, Aprasidze, who could play at his third U-20 Championship next year, conjured up a wonder try from his own half to raise Georgian hopes again. He scampered through a gap and brilliantly stepped away from Silvester and Tynan, leaving them both on the ground, to run in a scintillating unconverted score.
The hosts, who are an exciting side with bright futures ahead of them, were suddenly enjoying a purple patch, using an overthrown lineout from Kelleher to pick holes in the Irish defence. Defending in his 22, Doris was caught offside playing the ball and Aprasidze slotted the straightforward penalty to close the gap to 21-18 on the hour mark.
After an overcooked kick from Tynan, Ireland regained territory with Coombes putting pressure on the Georgian lineout and the hungry Irish pack turning over the maul.
A number of Georgian scrum infringements had been missed by the match officials, including 'boring in' and short binds, but Argentinian referee Pali de Luca finally pinged replacement loosehead Ushangi Tcheishvili for coming in at an angle having previously warned him. Dean mopped up with the three points and his kick proved to be the match-winning one.
Ireland initiated a well-executed maul from the restart, drawing a penalty near halfway, and they were able to pin Georgia back in their own half for the remainder, forcing a final handling error with captain Boyle booting the ball to touch to confirm a very hard-fought victory.
Tries: Tynan, Sweetman-Doris, Boyle
Cons: Dean 3
Tries: Gogichashvili, Aprasidze
Pens: Aprasidze 2
Ireland: 15 Alan Tynan, 14 Michael Silvester, 13 Gavin Mullin, 12 David McCarthy, 11 Calvin Nash, 10 Conor Dean, 9 Jack Stafford, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Paul Boyle (captain), 6 John Foley, 5 Oisin Dowling, 4 Fineen Wycherley, 3 Charlie Connolly, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 1 Jordan Duggan.
Replacements: 16 Adam Moloney, 17 Joey Conway, 18 Greg McGrath, 19 Jack Regan, 20 Gavin Coombes, 21 Jonny Stewart, 22 Ciaran Frawley, 23 Mark Keane.
Georgia: 15 Miriani Modebadze, 14 Saba Svimonishvili, 13 Bezhani Gavashelishvili, 12 Giorgi Kveseladze, 11 Davit Meskhi, 10 Gela Abzhandadze, 9 Gela Aprasidze, 8 Arseni Machaladze, 7 Ilia Spanderashvili (captain), 6 Beka Saghinadze, 5 Koba Jimsheleishvili, 4 Lashia Jaiani, 3 Guram Papidze, 2 Levan Papidze, 1 Guram Gogichashvili.
Replacements: 16 Levan Tchavtchavadze, 17 Ushangi Tcheishvili, 18 Lasha Tabidze, 19 Tornike Jalagonia, 20 Sandro Mamamtavrishvili, 21 Luka Dvalishvili, 22 Giorgi Tsiklauri, 23 Beka Mamukashvili.
Referee: Pali De Luca (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Dan Jones (Wales), Andrea Piardi (Italy)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)