By Ben Hart in Verona
IRELAND U20s slumped to a 33-24 Under-20 Six Nations Summer Series defeat against South Africa despite a brave second-half fightback in Verona.
They were torn apart before the break by an unflinching South Africa pack, with the bonus-point score coming after just 35 minutes for Bafana Nhleko’s side.
Ireland U20s were vastly improved after the break and gave their travelling support something to savour when Dylan O’Grady, Oisin Michel and captain Reuben Crothers all crossed.
But it was not enough to overturn the damage of the first half, and Richie Murphy must find a quick solution if Ireland are to avoid finishing bottom in Pool A.
South Africa struck first after dominating the early stages, with Cameron Hanekom powering over from close-range, adding to his score from Round 1 against England.
Ireland were then gifted an immediate opportunity to strike back when Boks hooker Tiaan Lange was penalised deep inside his half.
But the throw from James McCormick was deemed not straight by referee Benoit Rousselet. That did not deter Murphy’s side however, and they slowly began to assert themselves thereafter.
After a succession of penalties, captain Reuben Crothers opted for a shot at goal and Sam Prendergast had the simple task of striking Ireland’s first three points of the game.
But the decision to not go for the corner seemed to reinvigorate South Africa, who perhaps sensed trepidation in the Irish ranks.
Whereas Ireland seemed to lack the decisive pass or break, South Africa had dangerous runners in vast supply, and three different scorers then added their name to the scoresheet in a destructive 10-minute spell.
Lock Reinhardt Ludwig powered over from close-range for the first, as the Irish pack struggled to compete with the intensity of their Bok counterparts.
Reinhardt Ludwig was next to cross with another upfront finish, and the forwards were lining up by this point, with Lange next, followed by Corne Rahl.
There was cause for Irish optimism going into the break, however, as Lange was penalised again, this time for a high tackle which prompted a yellow-card.
Ireland U20s could not quite make use of the man advantage but ironically did cross as soon as Lange returned. After winger King came within metres of the whitewash, only to lose his footing with the line at his mercy, fellow flyer O’Grady finished off a cracking move.
With numbers stacked on the blind side, Prendergast put through a delicate grubber for his Leinster teammate. Having beat Donovan Don for speed, the ball sat up perfectly for O’Grady.
That proved the highlight of the game for the Irish though, as South Africa soon struck back. Replacement hooker Lukhanyo Vokozela powered his way over for a fifth score for the Bok pack.
As the game began to meander, Ireland did muster a second score. Prop Oisin Michel pushed through after a tap penalty from in front of the posts.
Then with the clock in the red, captain Crothers scored to end the game on a positive note ahead of Ireland’s final pool fixture against England next Tuesday.