The Ireland Under-19s lost narrowly - 17-11 - in a tight and physical encounter to Australia Schools at Ravenhill on Wednesday night.
UNDERAGE INTERNATIONAL: Wednesday, December 21
Ireland Under-19s 11 Australia Schools 17, Ravenhill
Scorers: Ireland: Try: Conor McInerney; Pen: Brian Collins; Drop: Ian Keatley
Australia: Tries: Andrew Barrett, Quade Cooper, Brett Gillespie; Con: Kurtley Beale
The Irish Under-19s ran Australia Schools close and were unfortunate not to take the spoils in the visitors' final tour match on Wednesday night.
51-18 winners against the Ireland Under-19 'A' side last weekend, the Antipodeans travelled north in high spirits, but the Irish started brightly in what turned out to be a fast paced and physical encounter in Belfast.
Ireland created some good early chances, but it was the Wallaby backline who opened the scoring with some early flare in the 14th-minute. Australian fly-half Kurtley Beale broke through the Irish defensive line, fed centre Brett Gillespie, who took it on at pace before passing to winger Andrew Barrett, who showed good pace and strength to get over the line. Full-back Quade Cooper failed to convert.
Three minutes later, Australia infringed when under pressure from the home side. Castleknock College fly-half Brian Collins gratefully accepted to kick the 25-metre penalty kick, bringing the Irish back into it at 5-3 down.
Ireland were on top at this point, but the chances that came their way were not unfortunately not taken. UCD's Kevin Sheahan broke away from a lineout and the ball was moved through the backs. Promising St. Munchin's centre Keith Earls took the ball on, bouncing off his first tackler, but then lost the ball when brought to ground and the attack petered out.
Dropped balls and turnovers were to scupper the chances that Ireland were creating. UCD's Ian Keatley combined with his centre partner Earls, but the opportunity was again lost when Ireland saw the ball turned over at the ruck. But at 5-3 down at the interval, Ireland remained in contention, and within 20 seconds of the restart, centre Keatley dropped a goal to give the home side a 6-5 buffer.
Australia then came storming back and full-back Quade Cooper crossed for a try, which much-touted fly-half Beale converted to put Australia 12-6 in front.
On 46 minutes, Cooper turned villan when he took Ireland winger Vasily Artemiev out with a nasty tackle. Following some scuffling that resulted from the incident, Cooper was sent to the sin-bin.
Ireland's pack went on to drive from a subsequent lineout and captain and lock Conor McInerney got in for Ireland's first and only touchdown. Collins failed to convert, leaving Ireland a point behind.
Australia again came back - centre Gillespie crossed for the try which proved to be Australia's match-winner.
The remainder of the game saw Ireland put Australia under a huge amount of pressure as they searched for their own match-winning score. But despite a late rally, which saw the Ireland pack held up several times over the visitors' line, the Irish could not find the vital breakthrough.
IRELAND UNDER-19s: Sean Carey (Garbally College), Michael Barker (Queen's University Belfast), Keith Earls (St. Munchin's), Ian Keatley (UCD), Vasya Artemiev (Blackrock College); Brian Collins (Castleknock College), Stephen Cranley (Greystones); Cian Healy (Belvedere College), David Gilchrist (UCD), Stephen Gethings (Gonzaga), Tom Walsh (Castleknock College), Conor McInerney (UCD) (capt), Thomas Anderson (Queen's University Belfast), Kevin Sheahan (UCD), Tommy O'Donnell (UL Bohemians).
Replacements: Gerard Slattery (St. Munchin's), Michael Ferguson (Queen's University Belfast), Neil Simpson (Instonians), Jonathan Graham (Ballynahinch), Shane O'Sullivan (Christian Brothers Cork), David Drake (Instonians), Niall O'Connor (Limavady Grammar School), Aidan Wynne (Blackrock College).
AUSTRALIA SCHOOLS: Q Cooper; A Barrett, R Kellam, B Gillespie, L Turner; K Beale, T Tusitala; D Roach, J Egan, B Daley, P Mathers, J Afu, J Lam, D Pocock, P McCutcheon.
Replacements: J Salvi, J Hanson, G Warren, D Linde, B McCalman, M Schwager, C Lealiifano, B Lucas.
Referee: Tim Beddows (England); Touch Judges: Simon McDowell, Jonathan Peak (both Ireland).