Emerging Ireland make it two for two in South Africa with narrow victory over Pumas

Not quite the hammering it was shaping up to be early doors, as Emerging Ireland were made to work hard for victory over the Pumas at Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein.

he Currie Cup champions asked plenty of questions of a young Emerging Ireland team, who showed good character to hang on for back-to-back victories on their mini tour to South Africa.

Head coach Simon Easterby will be hoping his charges can make it a clean sweep when they take on the Cheetahs on Sunday before returning to Ireland.

The Pumas posed a physical challenge up front, with the Irish pack fronting up well. 

James Culhane picked up where he left off for the Grand Slam-winning Ireland U-20s earlier this year, with two tries and a strong all-round performance adding to the 19-year-old Leinster back-row’s growing reputation.

Antoine Frisch showed flashes of why there is so much excitement around his signing by Munster, while Cormac Izuchukwu grew into the game and became a real force with ball in hand.

Connacht’s new back-three player Chay Mullins was lively every time he was in possession, with his provincial team-mate Cian Prendergast leading by example as captain before making way after the restart. 

Culhane’s brace along with tries from Mullins and Jake Flannery, who finished with 13 points, saw Emerging Ireland run out four-point winners.

As is increasingly becoming a problem in modern rugby, the flow of the game was not helped by a long, drawn out TMO process, coupled with water breaks, which admittedly were more reasonable in the Bloemfontein heat than they were in Cork last weekend.

The end result was that the first-half took almost an hour to complete.

Emerging Ireland only had to wait six minutes to get their first try and it came about from a strong Frisch break after the midfielder was quickest to react to a loose ball.

Prendergast was stopped short of the line, but when the ball was recycled, Frisch got involved again, playing a nice pass for Mullins to run in unopposed.

Flannery converted for an early 7-0 lead, which was soon extended when Scott Penny’s clever switch pass found Culhane on the peel, as this year’s U-20s player of the tournament powered over.

The Pumas’ cause was not helped when Shane Kirkwood was sent to the bin for a dangerous clean-out on Cathal Forde. Kirkwood was very lucky to avoid red, with another team-mate fortunate not to have seen yellow earlier for tackling Ethan McIlroy in the air.

Emerging Ireland quickly made their man advantage count, as Flannery breezed through a gaping hole in the South African’s defence. The Ulster out-half converted his own try to maintain his 100pc record from the tee and push his side 21-0 in front.

The Pumas hit back with two tries before the break. André Fouché was first to crash over from close range before hooker Eduan Swart got on the end of a powerful rolling maul, which allowed Tinus de Beer to cut the deficit to nine points (21-12) at half-time.

Easterby looked to his bench early in the second-half and the replacements made a big impact, helping seal the bonus point on 53 minutes.

A brilliant training ground move, similar to that of the Ireland senior team, created a hole for Izuchukwu whose clever offload found Mullins, who in turn fed Culhane for his second try of the evening. Flannery again added the extras for 28-12.

Just as it looked like Emerging Ireland would pull away, the Pumas’ speedster Sebastian de Klerk hit back with two tries in quick succession, the second of which was converted by de Beer.

But Emerging Ireland had enough left in the tank to withstand a nervy finish and regather their composure to see out the victory. 

Emerging Ireland: C Mullins; E McIlroy, A Frisch, C Forde, A Smith (S Daly 74); J Flannery, M McDonald (B Murphy 51); C Reid (J Wycherley 46), D Barron (D Tierney-Martin 46), R Salanoa (S Illo 46); C Izuchukwu, B Deeny (T Ahern 66); C Prendergast (capt) (D McCann, 46), S Penny, J Culhane.

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