Ireland showcased their title credentials with an impressive six-try 38-7 triumph over Scotland in the 2021 Six Nations Under-20s curtain-raiser at Cardiff Arms Park.
Richie Murphy’s men won all three games in last year’s Championship before it was postponed and are the reigning champions following their 2019 Grand Slam success.
And they laid down an emphatic marker to the rest of their rivals in their first runout of the 2021 campaign after Leinster’s Alex Soroka scored the opening try inside five minutes.
Scotland responded with try from Elliot Gourlay but a penalty try just before the break followed by scores from Sam Illo, captain Alex Kendellen, Shane Jennings and Jamie Osborne secured the win.
It took no time at all for Ireland to land the opening blow, with the men in green turning the ball over inside the opening five minutes and setting up camp on Scotland’s try line.
After multiple pick-and-goes, Ireland eventually broke down Scotland’s stubborn defence and Soroka barged over the whitewash to get the first points of the 2021 Championship.
James Humphreys landed the extras to complete a dream start for Murphy’s men, who completed the Triple Crown before last year’s Six Nations Under-20s was curtailed prematurely.
Scotland quickly brushed off the early score, however, and began to cause problems of their own with Murray Redpath - the son of Bryan - making a promising break on eight minutes.
The game continued to ebb and flow as both sides maintained a high intensity before Scotland got the reward for their effort in the 20th minute after Ronan Loughnane conceded a penalty.
After kicking for territory and retaining lineout ball, Cameron Scott spotted space in behind the defence and nudged a clever grubber to Gourlay who was able to collect and dive over.
Scott landed the extras to level the scores again, reflecting just how little there was between the sides in the opening quarter of the contest on the pristine Cardiff Arms Park pitch.
Ireland suffered another setback just before the half hour when Humphreys was forced off the field with an injury, with Tim Corkery coming on in his place at fly-half.
But having seen off a spell of Scotland pressure, and some bulldozing runs from Michael Gray and Finlay Callaghan, Ireland responded with an attack of their own as half-time approached.
And they took the lead into the interval thanks to a penalty try after Scotland winger Gray was shown a yellow card for playing the man without the ball and denying a scoring opportunity.
With the momentum on their side following the conclusion to the first half, Ireland started the second 40 minutes much like they did the first as they attack from the whistle.
Their pressure told barely a minute after the restart when Scotland were permanently reduced to 14 men after Harri Morris was shown red for a dangerous challenge in the air.
Taking advantage of their extra man almost immediately, Ireland kicked to the corner and won lineout ball before showing their muscle with a driving maul.
While the move came up just short of the tryline, the men in green were able to recycle and go again through Cathal Forde before Illo eventually crashed over the whitewash.
Although Corkery was unable to kick the extra two points, Ireland began to move through the gears and they grabbed their bonus-point try as the hour mark approached.
Just as was the case with their other tries, Ireland’s power proved too much for the Scottish pack and several phases provided the platform for Kendellen to score his side’s fourth.
A string of changes from both sides saw the game open up even more in the closing minutes, with Christian Townsend - son of Scotland head coach Gregor - among those introduced.
But Scotland were unable to turn the green tide, with Shane Jennings adding his name to the scoresheet with Ireland’s fifth try on 61 minutes, converted by Corkery.
Scotland refused to back down and came close to grabbing a consolation, only for Ireland to see off the danger and come within a whisker of bagging their sixth try of the contest.
That sixth try did ultimately arrive in the 77th minute through Osborne, with Corkery adding two more to complete an near-perfect afternoon's work from Murphy's men in Cardiff.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
There were several contenders for Ireland, not least in their powerful pack.
Leinster's Alex Soroka was particularly impressive and scored the opening try of the Championship.
But skipper Alex Kendellen showed exactly why he is so highly rated, with the Munster star making 15 carries for 84 metres, scoring a try and crashing into 15 tackles as well in an all-action display.
Leading from the front, he set the relentless pace his side maintained throughout.