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Wednesday 28 September 2016

Ireland lose Johnston in historic win over New Zealand

Ireland celebrate their victory over New Zealand
Ireland celebrate their victory over New Zealand

Bill Johnston will play no further part in the U20 World Cup in what could be a crippling blow for Ireland.

The out-half, the victim of a shoulder injury, is a vital piece of coach Nigel Carolan's puzzle for opponents.

Johnston is a real game-shaper in the way his replacement Brett Connon and his likely stand-in Johnny McPhillips are not.

It was noticeable when Ireland needed someone to put their foot through the ball, midway through the second-half against New Zealand, in the milling rain, no one took control.

Nonetheless, they completed the first part of the greatest double-day in this nation's rugby history when they humbled the Baby Blacks 33-24 to take control of Pool A in Manchester.

The scalp of Grand Slam Wales was followed by that of the holders as Ireland's set-piece scrum and lineout allied to their defensive intensity carried all before it.

"It is an incredible feeling," said captain James Ryan.

"We spoke before the game about creating history. It wasn't just another game."

The Irish took confidence from how they overcame a 17-point deficit against the Welsh to hammer out tries from flanker Greg Jones, hooker Adam McBurney and number eight Max Deegan.

The linespeed of the Irish was just about enough to subdue Jordi Barrett's Kiwis.

The Irish adapted better to the conditions and rammed home their set-piece superiority with the first two tries coming off mauls and the third from a dominant scrum.

It means Ireland have to condemn Georgia to their third defeat in the Pool on Wednesday to make the semi-final for just the second time.

It won't be as easy as it would seem given how the muscle men almost undid Wales on Saturday, eventually losing out by the slimmest margin possible (10-9).

Indeed, their set-piece and defence are their calling cards in what will be trench warfare should the rain set in again.

Coach Nigel Carolan will have to devise a different plan than the one that thwarted the Baby Blacks.

They are looking rather threadbare too now that Johnston and tight-head Conor Kenny have already been ruled out of the tournament.

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