The Ireland Under-18 Clubs team went down 7-0 to England in a titanic semi-final tussle at the FIRA/AER Under-18 European Championships in Hyeres on Wednesday.
After wins over England in the last two years of this competition and a 32-5 defeat of Russia last Sunday, Greg Lynch’s Ireland side came into this semi-final clash with plenty of confidence.
The Irish management make six changes to the starting line-up from the victory over Russia, while England make nine alterations to the team that saw off Georgia 60-3 in their opener.
After a minute’s silence was held for the victims of the L’Aquila earthquake, the 800-strong crowd at the Stade du Pyanet watched England kick-off and exert some early pressure into the Irish 22.
But after a couple of strong set piece plays, Ireland gained a penalty for offside. Full-back Callum Boland was unfortunately off target with his kick from 30 metres out.
A big break from England full-back Alex Lewington got his side on the front foot and back inside the Irish 22.
Great defensive play from Ireland kept their try-line intact, there were some huge hits being made and a classy counter attack from winger Paul Dean brought play deep into English territory.
Both sides have their moments but it was an even enough first half and it was no surprise that they turned around at the break at 0-0.
Ireland ended the half on the attack and it was a credit to both sides that they maintained such a high level of rugby through all facets of play.
After hands in the ruck from England Boland had another crack at the posts, three minutes into the second period, but his effort dropped short of the posts.
Just moments later, Kieran Marmion worked the ball back from a short lineout for a drop goal attempt which team captain David Lynch pushed to the left of the posts.
It was then time for England to enjoy a purple patch and it was during this spell that they scored the decisive try.
On 50 minutes, prop Simon McIntyre wrestled his way over from metres out after a number of phases close to the Irish line. England captain Mike Wilcox added the conversion.
England threatened again through Lewington, who countered from deep and proved to be an elusive runner.
But through sheer commitment and team spirit, Lynch’s side battled back and they kicked two long range penalties to touch to get back within scoring range.
Replacement Grant Connon misjudged a penalty kick, awarded for a late tackle, but the Irish forwards maintained possession after a knock-on from the England rearguard.
However, England’s defence was resolute and although the Irish were camped on the victors’ line for a five-minute period, they could not force their way over for a seven-pointer.
England ended the game on the attack and almost got over for a second try before French referee Christophe Labaune blew the final whistle.
The results leave Lynch’s charges competing for third place in Group A. Their final game of the Championships, the 3rd-4th place play-off against Romania, will take place at Stade Mayol in Toulon on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 1.30pm local time).
England will meet hosts France in the final. The French beat Romania 78-3 in their semi-final encounter.
IRELAND UNDER-18 CLUBS v England U-18 (FIRA/AER Under-18 European Championships, Cote d’Azure, France):
15. Callum Boland (Buccaneers – Connacht)
14. Michael Sherlock (Skerries – Leinster)
13. Andrew Boyle (Old Wesley – Leinster)
12. David Lynch (Naas – Leinster) (capt)
11. Paul Dean (Old Wesley – Leinster)
10. Jack Carty (Buccaneers – Connacht)
9. Kieran Marmion (Kirkham GS – Exiles)
1. Tadhg Furlong (New Ross – Leinster)
2. John Sutton (New Ross – Leinster)
3. Luke Murphy Wooldridge (St. Olave’s School – Exiles)
4. Connor Smyth (Coleraine – Ulster)
5. Michael Kearney (Clontarf – Leinster)
6. Dominic Gallagher (Lisburn – Ulster)
7. Callum Burke (London Wasps/Hampton School – Exiles)
8. Eoin McKeown (Galwegians – Connacht)
16. Eddie Downes (Wicklow – Leinster)
17. Jake Considine (Young Munster – Munster)
18. Jonathan Murphy (Banbridge – Ulster)
19. Daniel Qualter (Buccaneers – Connacht)
20. Aaron Conneely (Corinthians – Connacht)
21. Rory Cunningham (Galwegians – Connacht)
22. Mark Dolan (Buccaneers – Connacht)
23. Grant Connon (Austin Friars St. Monica’s – Exiles)
24. Nathan McDonald (Worcester Warriors – Exiles)
25. Luke O’Keefe (London Wasps – Exiles)
26. Robbie Holt (Edenderry – Leinster)