Baby Blacks hold off spirited Irish performance
The Baby Blacks spent the first half stuck in lullaby land, but had enough quality to hold off a strong Irish side 45-23 in the Junior World Championship third-place playoff tonight.
Ireland came out with confidence and pride to take on the New Zealand Under-20s at Eden Park in Auckland, but faltered in the second half after taking a lead into the break.
You could tell it meant more to the Irish being in the third-place playoff, but the home side had more quality in the end.
Individual bits of magic from New Zealand's backs masked a lethargic opening 40, and kept them in it.
Tevita Li opened the scoring for New Zealand after seven minutes, given a simple path under the posts after a break by first-five Richie Mo'unga.
Li returned the favour with 20 minutes on the clock, making a break up the left touchline before passing inside for Mo'unga to score.
Both tries were against the run of play as Ireland showed patience and skill with the ball in hand.
Irish first-five Ross Byrne slotted a pair of early penalties as New Zealand struggled under pressure, and then the Irish had a penalty try after 24 minutes.
A big Irish scrum got across the line but a Kiwi defender illegally dove on the ball before it could be dotted down.
The Irish pressure continued after the restart as the men in green marched down field, and the persistent offending finally caught up with New Zealand.
Waikato lock James Tucker was handed a yellow card by referee Alexandre Ruiz for infringing at the breakdown, and Byrne slotted the resulting penalty to hand his team a 16-14 lead.
That lead was short lived, as two minutes later Li was in under the posts after good build up play from Mo'unga, TJ Faiane and Mitchell Drummond.
Ireland struck back instantly when prop Oisin Heffernan couldn't gather, but kicked the ball ahead off his shin and re-gathered for the try.
New Zealand needed to wake up after the break and did, getting better field position inside the Irish half.
Tucker had a try disallowed despite seeming to have driven across the line, but had his try nine minutes into the half after another drive through the Irish defence.
New Zealand were getting sloppy with the ball while the Irish stayed confident in possession as the half wore on, and needing something to spark, again.
Not for the first time it was Mo'unga providing the spark, re-gathering after a chip and chase and then finding Drummond on the inside for his team's fifth try of the night.
Mo'unga was in again minutes later, this time scoring the try himself, after a well worked set play up the left touchline was worked back inside.
Irish fullback Cian Kelleher and New Zealand replacement lock Troy Callander were both sent to the bin late in the half.
New Zealand's 14-men still found a way over the line with a minute remaining, Lachlan Boshier diving over in the right corner to seal the 22-point victory.
New Zealand 45 (Tevita Li 2, Richie Mo'unga 2, James Tucker, Mitchell Drummond, Lachlan Boshier tries; Damian McKenzie 5 cons) Ireland 23 (Oisin Heffernan, Penalty try, tries; Ross Byrne 2 cons, 3 pens) HT 21-23