A TRY from Ulster’s Iain Henderson helped guide Ireland U20s to a stunning 23-19 win over Junior World Cup hosts, South Africa, last night in Stellenbosch.
The 66th minute touchdown came at a time when the strongly fancied Baby Boks had mounted a comeback from trailing 13-3 at the interval to drawing level with a game Irish side at 16-all.
Outhalf, JJ Hanrahan, converted lock Henderson’s try to give the young Greens – playing in white - a seven point cushion, but it took a huge defensive effort in the closing 10 minutes to secure the memorable win.
Ireland will face England on Friday in what is already being billed as the potential winner takes all clash in Pool B.
The English, who won the Junior Six Nations Championship, were 64-5 winners over Italy earlier in the day. They secured a try scoring bonus point win which puts them top of Pool B, one point ahead of Ireland.
The three group winners go through to the semi-finals, with the best runner-up across all three qualifying as the fourth seed.
Ireland captain, Niall Scannell, said the side had the belief they could see off the mighty challenge off the Boks, reversing the double defeat in both the pool and knockout stages last year, when the South Africans were comfortable winners 46-26 and 57-15.
“We worked very hard and believed in it,” said Scannell.
“The South Africans put a lot of pressure on us, but we came out all right.
“It was a very physical game. Our focus was on the tackle area and to aim low at the knees and ankles. It was brilliant commitment from the team.”
South African skipper, Wian Lienbenberg, admitted his side were extremely disappointed with the result, particularly with it coming in front of their own fans.
“It was definitely not the result we wanted. I think we did not want to play catch up rugby, but they (Ireland) played well, put the pressure on us and made us play in our half.
“That was not what we wanted to do. Yes we can come back from this and we will keep our heads up so we are ready for the Italian challenge.”
The South Africans enjoyed a good opening quarter but only had three points to show for their efforts after a penalty from Tony Jantjies.
Ireland rallied and outhalf, Hanrahan, steadied himself after a shaky start and had the Irish 6-3 ahead after 24 minutes with two well drilled penalties.
A charge down by the Irish pack led to the opening try of the game for Jordon Coghlan, converted by Hanrahan, which gave the impressive Greens a deserved 13-3 interval lead.
The Baby Boks scored a try 14 minutes into the second half, Paul Willemse’s effort being converted by Jantijes to reduce the arrears to three points, but a drop goal from Hanrahan kept the Irish scoreboard ticking over.
Two well struck penalties from Jantijes levelled the scores at 16 apiece and it looked as though the tide was swinging in favour of the tournament hosts.
But the Irish dug deep into the reserves again, another charge down eventually led to Henderson powering his way over for a crucial try, converted by Hanrahan.
Nine minutes from the end, Jantijes landed another penalty and although the Boks really pressurised the Irish line in the closing minutes stout defending, with Ulster centre, Chris Farrell particularly impressive, held the Boks out.
The Irish delight at the end was significant of what the squad had achieved, but there is still work to do against their arch rivals, England on Friday.