IRELAND UNDER-20s 10 ULSTER RAVENS 18, UCD
Scorers: Ireland U-20: Tries: Simon Zebo, John Cooney
Ulster Ravens: Tries: Penalty try, Craig Gilroy; Con: Paddy Robinson; Pens: Paddy Robinson 2
This game was originally to be played at Shaw's Bridge in Belfast but the worsening weather conditions forced it down south to UCD's 4G all-weather pitch at Belfield. Despite this upheaval, both sides served up a lively and entertaining encounter.
The early exchanges were fairly even with Ireland Under-20 openside flanker Dominic Ryan catching the eye with some excellent tackling, while the Ravens had Craig Gilroy and James Thompson countering with some penetrating runs.
The home side took the lead in the 23rd minute when Cork Constitution winger Simon Zebo finished off a sweeping back-line move that started in the Irish 22. The conversion attempt from out-half Brian Kingston was off target.
However, the Ireland Under-20s soon lost the services of the influential Ryan for 10 minutes when he fell foul of referee Colin Stanley in the 26th minute, following repeated infringements at the breakdown.
The Ravens made the most of their extra man, taking play deep into the Irish 22. Eight minutes before half-time, the referee awarded a penalty try following a number of infringements at a five-metre scrum, where the Ulster pack exerted some pressure.
The normally reliable boot of full-back Paddy Robinson failed to convert from in front of the posts, leaving the scores tied at 5-5.
In injury-time at the end of the first half, Neil McComb almost charged over in the left hand corner, only to be stopped by a determined tackle from Ireland Under-20 lock Brian Hayes.
The opening 10 minutes of the second half were rather scrappy with the Ravens eventually gaining territorial advantage. A Robinson penalty goal in the 51st minute put the Ulstermen back into the lead but this was short lived as the Irish Under-20s countered with an excellent try just two minutes later.
Full-back Andrew Conway made good ground down the left wing. Looking for support, he fed inside for scrum half John Cooney to race clear and round off a fine try. The conversion was missed, leaving Allen Clarke's youngsters with a narrow 10-8 lead.
The Under-20s thought they had scored again in the 59th minute. Referee Stanley had signalled that a try had been scored, but a flag from one of his assistants indicated that the home side had thrown a punch at the ruck and the try was disallowed. The Ravens cleared the danger with a penalty kick into touch.
As the game entered the final quarter, the Irish Under-20s started to throw the ball around, but disaster struck in the 64th minute when Dungannon winger Craig Gilroy intercepted a pass on halfway and sprinted clear to touch down under the posts. Robinson added the extras to take the Ravens 15-10 clear.
And in the closing stages, the Ravens finished the stronger. Good runs from Gilroy, Thompson and Michael Allen caused the home side a number of problems.
A second Robinson penalty in the 73rd minute sealed the victory for the visitors and the game finished with the Ravens camped close to the Irish try-line.
Despite the defeat, the Irish management and players will take much from this new year outing. The game served as further preparation for the Ireland Under-20s' Six Nations campaign, which begins with the visit of Italy to Dubarry Park on Friday, February 5.
IRELAND U-20: Andrew Conway; Craig O'Hanlon, Brendan Macken, David McSherry, Simon Zebo; Brian Kingston, John Cooney; Brian Cagney, David Doyle, Stuart Maguire, David O'Callaghan, Brian Hayes, Rhys Ruddock, Dominic Ryan, Paddy Butler.
Replacements: James McKinney, Michael Heaney, Denis Buckley.
ULSTER RAVENS: Paddy Robinson; Roger McBurney, Michael Allen, Steve Castle, Craig Gilroy; James Thompson, Paul Marshall; Paddy McAllister, Niall Annett (capt), Adam Macklin, James Sandford, Neil McComb, Stephen Leckey, Ali Birch, Stephen Mulholland.
Replacements: Johnny Simpson, Andy Warrick, James Simpson, Paddy Marks, Jason Bloomfield, Mark O'Connor, Tommy Seymour.
Referee: Colin Stanley (IRFU)