Dublin University winger Bryan Mollen crossed for two tries and finished with 23 points as the Combined Ireland Students team shared the spoils with England Students at the end of a thoroughly entertaining clash in sunny Oxford.
INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS MATCH: Sunday, April 2
ENGLAND STUDENTS 36 COMBINED IRELAND STUDENTS 36, Iffley Road, Oxford University RFC
Scorers: England Students: Tries: Mark Dixon, Simon Uzokwe, Sam Pointon 2, Tom Stileman; Cons: Will Kaye 4; Pen: Will Kaye
Combined Ireland Students: Tries: Bryan Mollen 2, Nick Peters, Andy Keating; Cons: Bryan Mollen 2; Pens: Bryan Mollen 3, Matthew Gilsenan
HT: England Students 19 Combined Ireland Students 19
With the Iffley Road venue bathed in glorious sunshine, the England Students flew out of the blocks. Following two five-metre scrums, they scored a try inside the first ten minutes through out-half Mark Dixon which was converted by his Loughborough team-mate Will Kaye.
Bryan Mollen, who was part of a threatening back-three led by Irish captain Darren Hudson, pulled back a penalty before Newcastle Falcons-bound flanker Simon Uzokwe bulldozed his way over out wide to bring the scoreline to 12-3.
Dan van Zyl’s Ireland charges eventually got up to the pace of the game and, with 20 minutes gone, they scored a try out wide after a slick lineout was followed by a superb break from University of Ulster winger Josh McIlroy over halfway, and he linked neatly with Hudson who put Mollen over in the right corner.
A second unconverted try on the half hour from Trinity clubman Mollen, this time under the posts via a great dummy and break into the 22 from Limerick IT’s Bailey Faloon, was sandwiched by two Mollen penalties, moving Ireland 19-12 in front. Yet, excellent English scrum half Sam Pointon had the final say with a closing try to make it all-square at the break.
The England Students started well again in the second period and looked to be turning the screw through the forwards as a series of mauls and pick and goes caused some damage. However, the Irish pack, coached by Munster’s Brendan O’Connor, held firm with Luke Cahill who had a tireless presence from number 8, Faloon and Ben Mitchell standing out for their dynamic work around the field.
After gaining some territory through a well-placed kick from Matthew Gilsenan, an opportunist try from his UCD half-back partner Nick Peters, who was quickest to react to a five-metre scrum won against the head, had Ireland back in front.
A yellow card for points machine Mollen (deliberate knock-on) on 65 minutes proved costly for the visitors, though, as England managed to score 10 unanswered points – including Pointon’s second converted try – before a penalty from out-half Gilsenan drew the sides level again (29-29) with five minutes to go.
It looked like it was going to be heartache for the Ireland Students when hometown winger Tom Stileman crashed over in the corner for a try which was well converted by full-back Kaye for a 36-29 lead.
Remarkably, showing great resolve and composure as they hunted down a late levelling score, the men in green went the length of the pitch after an inch-perfect pass from Fergal Cleary sent fellow replacement John Molony down the right touch line.
The subsequent penalty conceded by the scrambling English defence was kicked to the corner and from the lineout, Trinity prop Andy ‘Panda’ Keating gleefully crashed over from a 10-man maul. That left the restored Mollen with a nail-biting conversion from close to the right touchline but once more he stood up the task, drawing his kick over much to the delight of the considerable Irish support.
There was yet more drama in the dying seconds when England threw the kitchen sink at the visitors and Faloon and Cleary did really well to hold up Jack Barnard past the try-line, denying the home side a last-gasp victory. So 36-all is how it ended, a fair result given how well both sides performed during a very enjoyable attack-driven encounter.
While the English go on to play the French Students next week in Bristol University, the Irish players will return to their clubs for the last two rounds of the Ulster Bank League – including next Friday’s eagerly-awaited Colours clash between UCD and Dublin University at the Belfield Bowl (kick-off 6.30pm).
Speaking afterwards, Ireland Students head coach Dan van Zyl said: “It was a great performance from the boys, coming from different backgrounds and different Universities. To put a performance in like that and don’t stop playing, I’m very proud of the boys.
“Even there at the end, drawing the game and I then I heard the boys saying ‘Joué! Joué!’ with 30 seconds left, so I couldn’t go against our philosophy. Although we made an error, we fought back and 36-all, I think, is a good result.
“The game had some good game-breakers but also hard workers, and guys that could carry when needed. But with the width that both sides played with, it was a pleasure to watch as well as being a coach of one of the sides.”
Captain Darren Hudson admitted: “Obviously I would have preferred if we had won, but I think it was a fair result in the end and it was an exhibition of University rugby in both countries at its best.
“We weren’t here to kick the ball away and then just defend the English. We knew they were going to be good with the ball in hand, so we said we were going to try and keep it for as long as we could. That’s what we did, it was pretty tiring!
“As a captain, I didn’t have to try and calm anyone down when we were 36-29 behind. We had so many leaders out on the pitch, keeping a calm head. We knew once we had the ball we had a chance to score a try, and obviously the rolling maul did it for us.”
ENGLAND STUDENTS: Will Kaye (Loughborough University); Tim Stileman (Oxford University), Tom McClean (Durham University), Charlie Dunbar (Bath University), James Murdoch (Nottingham University); Mark Dixon (Loughborough University), Sam Pointon (Loughborough University); Adam Brockelebank (Durham University), Isaac Miller (Loughborough University) (capt), Rory Mason (Leeds Beckett University), Dan Preston Routledge (Leeds Beckett University), Will Britton (Bath University), Simon Uzokwe (Sunderland University), Jack Barnard (Leeds Beckett University), Oliver Robinson (Northumbria University).
Replacements: Ryan Roach (Cardiff Met University), Jordan Brodley (Bristol University), Alex Giltrow (UWE), Matthew Macpherson (Loughborough University), Harrison Nuttal (Loughborough University), Callum Watson (Loughborough University), Charlie Norman (Durham University), Harry Glover (Newcastle University).
COMBINED IRELAND STUDENTS: Darren Hudson (Maynooth University) (capt); Bryan Mollen (Dublin University), Kevin Slater (UCC), Kyle Dixon (Dublin University), Josh McIlroy (University of Ulster); Matthew Gilsenan (UCD), Nick Peters (UCD), Tony Cusack (Mary Immaculate College Limerick), Conor Maguire (DCU), Colm Skehan (Limerick IT), Ben Mitchell (UCC), Jack Dwan (UCD), Jack Burke (Dublin University) (vice-capt), Bailey Faloon (Limerick IT), Luke Cahill (Cork IT).
Replacements used: Andy Keating (Dublin University) for Skehan (5 mins), Fergal Cleary (DIT) for K Slater (50), John Molony (NUI Galway) for Maguire, Andy Marks (UCD) for McIlroy (both 60), James Bollard (DIT) for Cusack (63), Pierce Dargan (Dublin University) for Burke (64), Brian Slater (Dublin University) for Peters (65). Not used: Raef Tyrrell (Dublin University).