(by Michael Silke)

A magnificent first half display against a strong breeze set Connacht on their way to a rare U-20 Interprovincial championship title triumph when they made it three wins out of three, comprehensively defeating Munster 32-18 to clinch the crown at Dubarry Park, Athlone.

U20sMunster350A hat-trick of tries by Shane Layden at his new club Buccaneers’ home ground, which was in perfect condition, set Connacht on their way to lead 21-13 at the break. Although J.J. Hanrahan had opened the scoring with a 2nd minute penalty for Munster, Connacht gradually settled to the task on hand and were rewarded for a fine spell of pressure with their opening try on 14 minutes when fullback Layden was up in support to touchdown wide on the left. Tadhg Leader added a splendid conversion.

U20sMunster350Almost immediately from the restart, Munster opted for a long kick ahead but, in the considerable wind, the ball went dead giving Connacht a scrum on halfway. Jack Carty made the initial snipe from this setpiece and Layden was at his shoulder to take possession and blistered his way through for a superb 17th minute try which Leader also converted to put Connacht in a very promising 14-3 lead.

Layden350But, within five minutes, Munster were back in the game when Miah Cronin fastened on to a loose ball when Connacht lost possession in a tackle on their own ten-metre line and the visiting skipper got to the line for a try which Hanrahan converted to narrow the margin. However, just four minutes later,  that man Layden was touching down to complete his hat-trick of tries, and this one was the best of the bunch. Outhalf Carty made a smashing break that split the Munster cover and the hugely impressive Layden romped away for a stunning try at the posts. Leader duly added the conversion while Hanrahan gave Munster some hope with a penalty just before the halftime whistle at which stage Connacht were comfortable leaders 21-13.  

Munster defended doggedly on the restart while Connacht’s tempo understandably dropped somewhat but Leader extended their advantage with a 54th minute penalty. On the hour mark, Connacht sealed the match and indeed the championship when their best sustained and patient spell of pressure of the half yielded a try wide on the right. Conor Finn outfielded his opposite number to catch Carty’s teasing chip and ground the ball for a bonus point try. Leader had a rare miss with the difficult conversion but the centre thumped over a long 68th minute penalty to put Connacht in an unassailable 32-13 lead and the westerners were then able to fully unload their bench.

Munster, out-thought and out-fought throughout, never stopped trying and, with home substitute Andrew Keating sin-binned, replacement Kevin Slater won the chase for a grubber kick to grab a consolation try in the final move of the match played in front of a decent attendance despite the less than ideal 4 p.m. kick off.

This was a terrific team performance by Connacht and the endeavours of the backline were truly a joy to witness especially in that opening period. Connacht were less flamboyant on the turnover but their defensive resilience and organisation meant that Munster rarely threatened. Having won their two previous fixtures away to Ulster and Leinster, Connacht were relentless in their quest for glory and did not let the occasion get to them. There can be no doubting their pedigree or merit on winning this coveted title.

After the game, IRFU Senior Vice-President and passionate Connacht man Billy Glynn was particularly proud to present the U-20 Interprovincial Championship Perpetual Cup to the victorious captain Brian Moylett.

Speaking about the campaign U20 coach and Academy Manager nigel Carolan said:

“We’re delighted with the win and the manner in which we won the series. This hasn’t happened over-night, this team has been 5 years in the making, both technically and physically. We’ve proven that we can play a fantastic brand of rugby, unfortunatley we left it late against Ulster and Leinster to prove we were the better side but today we started playing early and got the result we wanted in the manner we wanted.”

“I thought the backs played particularly well, Jack Carty, Tadhg Keader, Robbie Henshaw and in particular Shane Layden, scoring 3 trys has to be commended. I thought Danny Qualter had a fantastic game. He claimed restarts, kick-offs and was outstanding in the loose but full credit has to go to the entire squad for this performance”

CONNACHT:- S.Layden; C.Finn, R.Henshaw, T.Leader, C.Boland; J.Carty, K.Marmion; P.Griffin, C.O’Connell, J.Dever; A.Kindregan, D.Qualter; A.Conneely, W.O’Brien and B.Moylett (captain). Replacements:- A.Keating (for J.Dever, 54 mins), E.Tarmey (for Kindregan, 54 mins), M.Dever (for Finn, 61 mins), I.O’Grady (for O’Brien, 61 mins), D.O’Dwyer (for O’Connell, 74 mins), J.Vaughn (for Boland, 74 mins) and M.Walsh (for Marmion, 74 mins). Temporary replacement:- J.Dever (for Conneely, 76 mins).

MUNSTER:- G.O’Suilleabhain; S.Glynn, R.Scannell, J.J.Hanrahan, S.Horgan; E.Mills, B.Haugh; B.Scott, J.Rael, N.Horan; S.Buckley, J.Donovan; M.Cronin (captain), C.Gallagher and R.Murphy. Replacements:- T.Ryan (for O’Suilleabhain, inj. 28 mins), E.Cross (for Cronin, inj. 49 mins), L.Cahill (for Donovan, 70 mins), N.Cronin (for Haugh, 70 mins) and C.O’Donnell (for Horan, 76 mins).

REFEREE:- Barry O’Keeffe (IRFU).


Shane Layden races in to score 1 of his 3 trys. (C)


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