Despite leading 10-8 at half-time and putting in a spirited display, Ireland ‘A’ disappointingly leaked a trio of second half tries as England Saxons powered clear to take a 31-13 win in Friday’s friendly international at Welford Road.
FRIENDLY INTERNATIONAL: Friday, February 1
ENGLAND SAXONS 31 IRELAND ‘A’ 13, Welford Road (Att: 10,749)
Scorers: England Saxons: Tries: Delon Armitage, Tom Varndell 2, David Paice; Con: Delon Armitage; Pens: Ryan Lamb, Delon Armitage 2
Ireland ‘A’: Try; Tommy Bowe; Con: Andrew Dunne; Pens: Andrew Dunne 2
Michael Bradley’s men lost to the Saxons for the second time in the space of twelve months – they were 32-5 losers at Ravenhill last February – but there were some notable performances from the Irish players at the home of Leicester Tigers.
Try scorer Tommy Bowe, place-kicker Andrew Dunne and workhorse number 8 Alan Quinlan all caught the eye as the visitors competed well before being put away in the second half.
Match conditions were wintry to say the least with snowstorms before and during the tie. But Leicester winger Tom Varndell heated up the occasion for the home fans with two well-taken tries.
England took a hold of the game when Varndell grabbed a 54th-minute cross-field kick from Shane Geraghty to touch down and his second try followed, 18 minutes later, when he dashed over to the right of the posts.
The Irish line-up boasted 150 caps between them and had Shane Horgan captaining them from midfield. Bradley’s side edged ahead in the third-minute when Dunne landed his first penalty attempt of the night.
Ryan Lamb levelled soon after but Ireland ‘A’ saw plenty of ball in the first quarter, with the untried centre partnership of Horgan and Luke Fitzgerald linking well with Dunne and his half-back partner Isaac Boss.
The Irish looked particularly dangerous when on the front foot and were unfortunate not to put away a chance on the left flank, after a flurry of quick passes.
The Saxons nipped in front when London Irish hooker David Paice rumbled over from close range for a try against the run of play.
Lamb missed the conversion and Ireland ‘A’ soon wrestled back the lead when a swift counter attack led to Bowe haring over in the right corner.
It was an excellent scored by a man in form and certainly pushing for a place in the Irish squad for next weekend’s Six Nations trip to France.
Ireland ‘A’ were able to pick off a few of Paice’s lineout throws in the first half and possession was secured when Ryan Caldwell came up with a good steal.
Off scrum ball, Isaac Boss darted into space and spun a lovely pass out for his Ulster team-mate Bowe to speed onto and beat Nick Abendanon for the try line. Dunne sent over an excellent conversion kick.
Defending well for the remainder of the half, the visitors went in at the break with a 10-8 buffer.
Dunne swapped penalties with Delon Armitage at the start of the second half but the Connacht’s man third successful kick proved to be the final score for Ireland ‘A’.
The lively Varndell then took centre stage with his two tries, the second set up by a one-handed pass from replacement hooker Dylan Hartley.
The Saxons were on top for the closing stages and nabbed a fourth try in deepest injury-time when numbers out wide helped Armitage cross the whitewash and add the conversion himself.
ENGLAND SAXONS: Nick Abendanon (Bath); Tom Varndell (Leicester Tigers), Ollie Smith (Leicester Tigers), Shane Geraghty (London Irish), Delon Armitage (London Irish); Ryan Lamb (Gloucester), Lee Dickson (Newcastle Falcons); Nick Wood (Gloucester), David Paice (London Irish), Jason Hobson (Bristol), Tom Palmer (London Wasps), Nick Kennedy (London Irish), Phil Dowson (Newcastle Falcons), Ben Woods (Newcastle Falcons), Jordan Crane (Leicester Tigers) (capt).
Replacements used: Anthony Allen (Gloucester) for Lamb (17 mins), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints) for Paice (50), George Skivington (Wasps) for Palmer, David Wilson (Newcastle Falcons) for Hobson (both 60), Mike Brown (Harlequins) for Varndell (77), James Grindal (Newcastle Falcons) for Dickson (78), Will Skinner (Harlequins) for Woods (79).
IRELAND ‘A’: Gavin Duffy (Galwegians/Connacht); Johne Murphy (Leicester Tigers), Luke Fitzgerald (Blackrock College/Leinster), Shane Horgan (Boyne/Leinster) (capt), Tommy Bowe (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster); Andrew Dunne (Old Belvedere/Connacht), Isaac Boss (Ballymena/Ulster); Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Frankie Sheahan (Cork Constitution/Munster), Bryan Young (Ballymena/Ulster), Trevor Hogan (Shannon/Leinster), Ryan Caldwell (Dungannon/Ulster), Stephen Keogh (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Shane Jennings (St. Mary’s College /Leinster), Alan Quinlan (Shannon/Munster).
Replacements used: Declan Fitzpatrick (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster) for Young, Niall O’Connor (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster) for Dunne (both 59 mins), Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster) for Horgan (62), Daniel Riordan (Buccaneers/Connacht) for Murphy, Chris Keane (Old Belvedere/Leinster) for Boss (both 74), Adrian Flavin (Buccaneers/Connacht) for Sheahan, David Pollock (Queen’s University/Ulster) for Keogh (both 79).
Referee: Peter Allan (Scotland)