England Students full-back Grant Pointer broke Irish hearts with an injury-time try to give the travelling Students a scarcely deserved victory over a battling Irish Colleges side at City of Derry’s Judges Road ground on Friday night.
COLLEGES INTERNATIONAL MATCH: Friday, February 27
IRISH COLLEGES 10 ENGLAND STUDENTS 13, Judges Road, City of Derry RFC
Scorers: Ireland: Try: Paul Harte; Con: Brian Collins; Pen: Brian Collins
England: Tries: Grant Pointer, Drew Locke; Pen: Grant Pointer
Irish Colleges had looked set for a famous victory after Old Belvedere out-half Brian Collins’ 67th-minute penalty put them a point clear.
But England’s late surge saw the home side caught short on the left wing where full-back Grant Pointer galloped in.
It was a cruel end for a young Irish side that had put up a determined display in what was the first ever international match to be staged at the North West venue.
The omens did not look good for the home side when Pointer’s third-minute penalty gave England Students an early lead. The full-back punished some loose play by the Irish pack with a precise kick.
Ireland rallied though and began to push the England side back with some clever interplay and well-placed kicking.
Collins was presented with a drop goal opportunity but his fifth-minute effort fell agonisingly short of the posts.
Home frustration was short-lived however when, only two minutes later, Athlone IT’s Paul Harte broke through several tackles to run in a superb individual try which Collins converted for a 7-3 lead.
Again England looked to the boot of Pointer for a response but on 22 minutes the English place-kicker’s penalty came back off an upright to preserve Ireland’s four-point advantage.
The visitors had the Irish pinned back in their own 22 but a succession of excellent Irish tackles saw the four-point margin maintained until the interval in the face of some strong English pressure.
Irish Colleges made one change at half-time. St. Mary’s College prop Rob Sweeney replaced Mark Hamilton but it was the English, with Toby Henry and Tom Malaney on for Rob Springhall and Andy Bridgemen, who started the better.
However, a great turnover from Ireland prop Mike Storey saw the home side gain momentum. With England on the backfoot, indiscipline in their back-line presented Collins with a very kickable penalty on 48 minutes but unfortunately the out-half dragged his effort wide of the left hand post.
Six minutes later and from another penalty, Collins’ aim was better but once again his luck was out when his 40-metre kick dropped under the crossbar.
Those misses looked costly as England made the most of a numerical advantage on their left flank to send winger Drew Locke crashing over in the corner for a well-worked try.
With Pointer missing the subsequent conversion, England looked set at 8-7 ahead to go on and dominate proceedings.
Yet the Irish Colleges refused to buckle and after a Collins penalty restored their lead, some heroic defending kept wave after wave of English attacks at bay.
The home side were dealt a blow though on 75 minutes when home favourite and City of Derry captain David Houston was harshly sin-binned for slowing up English ball, leaving Ireland to play the remainder of the game with 14 men.
Some desperate tackling coupled with a huge effort from the Irish pack looked to be enough to hold off the English until, in the 82nd minute, play was quickly switched to the left were England took full advantage of an overlap for Pointer’s vital try.
IRISH COLLEGES: Mike Gerrity; Paul Harte, Kevin Lynch, Lorcan Kavanagh, Darragh Fanning; Brian Collins, Sean Tracey; Mark Hamilton, Cian Culleton, Mike Storey, Robin Copeland, Ben Reilly, John Downey, John Dever, Eoghan Nihill.
Replacements used: Rob Sweeney for Hamilton (half-time), David Houston for Downey (71 mins).
ENGLAND STUDENTS: Grant Pointer; Sean Morris, Phil Ellis, Dave Butler, Drew Locke; William Nelson, Rob Springhall; Billy Moss, Jon Moyce, James Hall, Adrian Griffiths, Ian Kench, Simon Pitfield, Ben Maidment, Andy Bridgemen.
Replacements used: Tom Malaney for Bridgemen, Toby Henry for Springhall (both half-time), Rob Wood for Griffiths (56 mins), Alan Awcock for Morris (68).
Referee: Alan Rogan (IRFU)