The Ireland Under-19 Schools side, sponsored by PricewaterhouseCoopers, eventually gave way to the greater size and strength of Australia in a free-flowing and at times spellbinding schools international clash at Belfield on Friday afternoon.
SCHOOLS INTERNATIONAL MATCH: Friday, November 27
IRELAND UNDER-19 SCHOOLS 14 AUSTRALIAN SCHOOLBOYS 31, Belfield Bowl
Scorers: Ireland: Try: Chris Colvin; Pens: Paddy Jackson 3
Australia: Tries: Chris Feauai, Nicholas Stirzaker, Kimami Sitauti, Matt Lucas, Liam Gill; Cons: Rohan Saifoloi 2, Rodney Esekia
Click here from post-match reaction from Irish coach Bobby Byrne.
This was a match of high quality and intensity as the two sets of players hammered into each other right from the first whistle.
Initially, Ireland centre JJ Hanrahan sent a long punt tumbling towards the Australian 22-metre line. From there, team captain Emmet MacMahon took a ball against the throw. Tighthead Conor Carey drove around the side.
The ball was recycled for out-half Paddy Jackson to send Hanrahan hurtling through the middle for what looked like a certain try – until full-back Jacob Woodhouse intervened with a textbook tackle.
Ireland threatened again before an interception from Woodhouse lifted the siege. It was a temporary reprieve though.
Australia captain Liam Gill was sin-binned for a late tackle on lock MacMahon and out-half Jackson struck the penalty for a 3-0 lead in the sixth minute.
Almost immediately, Ireland conceded a penalty for slipping the bind at a scrum. But number 10 and vice-captain Rohan Saifoloi fired his shot at goal left of the posts.
Home full-back Ross Jones’ excellent offensive kick had scrum half Nicholas Stirzaker scrambling the ball into touch on his own line from where Ireland were inches from the opening try – Jackson was brought down near the posts and the support was slow to get to him.
The visitors’ centres Joel Faulkner and Tyson Frizell combined to take them out of danger.
A swift counter brought play deep into Ireland’s territory and scrum half Stirzaker stole in on the blindside for the game’s opening try. Saifoloi converted from the right to make it 7-3 in the 16th minute, against the run of play.
Then, Australia gave away a penalty at an Irish lineout. Jackson connected beautifully from the left-hand side to leave one point between them.
Openside Rory Cunningham’s superb work at the breakdown forced a penalty from which Ireland put together a sweet lineout move. The ball was transferred left and quick-thinking from Jackson opened the way for Jones to send left winger Chris Colvin sprinting in at the corner.
Straight after the restart, scrum half Blane McIlroy cut loose for a gain of 30 metres. He was at the base of the ensuing ruck to carve out an opening for Hanrahan, whose side-door offload could not be taken on the run.
The game was ebbing and flowing as Australian winger Kimami Sitauti beat off three tacklers in the space of 60 metres before Jones made his second attempt count.
However, Ireland’s problems at the scrum were exposed for Sitauti to wheel over on the right and recover the lead for the tourists on the half hour.
The Irish, coached by Terry McMaster and Bobby Byrne, were back for more when the gold jerseys refused to retreat from a kick. Jackson was on the money for the third time to make it 14-12 just before the break.
However, on the resumption, Australia were soon into their stride. The Irish scrum was in obvious trouble.
The home pack conceded a penalty from a reset. Saifoloi slammed it right into the corner. A lineout and drive ended with a try for replacement scrum half Matt Lucas in the 48th minute.
The superior size and strength of the boys in gold started to show up around the fringes as they moved beyond the gain-line. Then, out-half Saifoloi’s attempted drop goal was cruelly deflected into the path of Gill for a fortuitous try for the captain on the hour.
Ireland could have fallen away, but they engineered a fine move down the left with Hanrahan almost putting Jones into space. There was still plenty of gas in the tank.
In the last act, winger Chris Feauai put a seal on the win for Australia by gliding over on the right for their fourth try, converted by replacement out-half Rodney Esekia.
IRELAND U-19 SCHOOLS: Ross Jones (Castleknock College); Lukas Kunz (St. Munchin’s College), Michael McAuley (RBAI), JJ Hanrahan (Rockwell College), Chris Colvin (Royal School Armagh); Paddy Jackson (Methodist College), Blane McIIroy (Methodist College); Rory Harrison (Methodist College), Kieran Stokes (CBC Cork), Conor Carey (Methodist College), Emmet MacMahon (St. Michael’s College) (capt), Robert Hynes (Clongowes Wood College), Aaron Spring (Sligo Grammar School), Rory Cunningham (Colaiste Iognaid), Bryan Carroll (PBC Cork).
Replacements used: Niall Scannell (PBC Cork) for Stokes, Tom Goggin (St. Munchin’s College) for Hynes (both 42 mins), Conor Duffy (Belvedere College) for Carey, Luke McGrath (St. Michael’s College) for McIlroy (both 63), Daniel Diviney (Gonzaga College) for Colvin, Eoin Joyce (Terenure College) for Cunningham, Philip Whyte (Bangor Grammar School) for Scannell, Eoin Moriarty (St. Mary’s College) for Jones (all 69).
AUSTRALIAN SCHOOLBOYS: Jacob Woodhouse; Chris Feauai, Joel Faulkner, Tyson Frizell, Kimami Sitauti; Rohan Saifoloi, Nicholas Stirzaker; Scott Sio, Hugh Roach, Paul Alo-Emile, Curtis Browning, Greg Peterson, Matt Ika, Liam Gill (capt), Nathan Paila.
Replacements used: Matt Lucas for Stirzaker (33 mins), Luke Jones for Browning (42), Jack De Guingand for Ika (48), Matthew Garland for Faulkner (54), Marcus Heather for Roach (61), Tom Kingston for Alo-Emile (63), Joe Welch for Sio (64), Rodney Esekia for Saifoloi (65).
Referee: Laurent Cardona (France)