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Revival Of Ireland Students Fixture A Success Despite The Loss

Revival Of Ireland Students Fixture A Success Despite The Loss

Former England Grand Slam winner Jonathan Webb has hailed the revival of the historic Ireland v England third level match in Trinity College last week as a great success.

Ireland’s long and proud history of third level representative rugby has been hindered in recent years due to the pressures of the professional era and last week’s fixture, organised by the Irish Universities Rugby Union (IURU), was designed as a launch-pad for the reintroduction of regular internationals for Irish student teams.

The goal is to allow players an opportunity to represent their country while pursuing their studies and Webb, the former England Grand Slam-winning full-back and patron of England student rugby, has thrown his support behind the initiative having been guest of honour at the April 9 encounter in College Park.

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“To have played the match in such wonderful surroundings was inspirational,” said Webb “I sincerely hope it heralds the continuation of an important fixture between our two countries. Inspiring young men to play the highest level at the same time as completing their higher education is a subject very close to my heart.

“I think matches such as these do so much to signal to everyone within the sport that these aspirations are to be followed at every opportunity,” he added.

England, benefitting from extra preparation time having played France the week before, had too much power for Ireland, running in eight tries in a 57-30 victory at the packed College Park venue.

However, the Ireland side, made up exclusively of amateur students (anyone with a pro contract was deemed ineligible), never allowed themselves to be overwhelmed despite the visitors’ clear physical advantage.

Ireland scored four tries in total with stand-out efforts from Max McFarland and Tony Cusack and, in the traditions of student rugby, maintained a high-tempo attacking approach throughout which delighted the crowd and frequently unnerved their opponents.

Among the attendance were members of the 1965 Combined Universities team (who became the first Irish side to defeat a major touring nation when beating South Africa 12-10 at Thomond Park) as well as senior IRFU figures such as honorary treasurer Tom Grace and directors of sport from the Irish Universities including Brian Mullins of UCD.

“We were delighted with how everything went, it was a special day and hopefully the first of many such days,” said IURU secretary Jerome White.

“I think what stood out most was how much it meant to the players to pull on the green jersey. These are guys who would never get the chance to represent their country ordinarily because their commitment to study rules out a professional rugby career but they are still devoted to the game and to be able to give them an opportunity like this is fantastic.

“We got a lovely letter from the parents of Ben Mitchell, one of our second rows, who said ‘Ben’s opportunity to play at this level is great reward for the hours and years, he puts into his rugby. Our pride at seeing him run out with the team is our reward for years of coaching, washing kit and cheering from the sidelines’.

‘So, even though the result didn’t go Ireland’s way, knowing what the day meant to the players strengthens our determination to get international student rugby up and running properly again,” added White.
Match details: Ireland Students 30 England Students 57, College Park.

IRELAND STUDENTS: C Kearns (Dublin University); C Ansbro (UCC), P Farrell (Queen’s University), P Lavelle (Dublin University) (capt), M McFarland (Dublin University); L Bourke (UCD), C O’Regan (UCC); C Slowey (UCC), P Finlay (Dublin University), A Keating (Dublin University), B Mitchell (UCC), J Burke (Dublin University), N McCarthy (Dublin University), B du Toit (Dublin University), T Ryan (Dublin University).
Replacements: J Moloney (NUIG), T Cusack (Mary Immaculate College), L Mitchell (Maynooth University), R Tyrell (DU), P Marks (Queen’s University), J Glynn (UCD), J McDermott (Dublin University), M Courtney (Dublin University).