The Ireland Under-18 Schools team, sponsored by PricewaterhouseCoopers, overcame a 17-9 half-time deficit to beat their Scottish counterparts in their final match of the U-18 Five Nations Festival at Llandovery RFC in West Wales.
UNDER-18 FIVE NATIONS FESTIVAL: Saturday, April 10
IRELAND UNDER-18 SCHOOLS 28 SCOTLAND UNDER-18 24, Llandovery RFC
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Sam Coghlan Murray, Peter Nelson, Ross Jones; Cons: Paddy Jackson 2; Pens: Paddy Jackson 2; Drop: Ritchie McMaster
Scotland: Tries: Harry Leonard 2; Con: Harry Leonard; Pens: Mark Bennett 4
It would be fair to say Ireland frontloaded their first choice players for the gigantic challenges posed by Wales and England in the first two matches.
Scotland, on the other hand, saved their best for last, the midweek stroll against Italy allowing their management to rest players ahead of an encounter they would have targeted in the same way that the Irish prepared for them.
This juggling of resources on both sides – a competition rule dictates that every squad player must start at least one match – made the Scots slight favourites.
Ireland captain Niall Scannell joined Sam Coghlan Murray and Paddy Jackson in starting all three matches. But, the Cork front rower also managed the unique achievement of starting in all three positions from one to three.
It was a frantic start, patterns and structure going out the window as mistakes ruled the opening minutes. Eventually, a lofted ball was taken by Ireland’s Ross Jones only for the full-back to become isolated on the counter.
He held on too long on the ground and Scotland’s Mark Bennett made it 3-0 from a 30-metre penalty in the fourth minute.
Straight away, Bennett doubled the deficit for the Irish when he struck from halfway on account of an offside.
Skipper Scannell and lock Yasin Browne got on the ball from the restart. Scotland showed they were not in full control of their defence either by needlessly conceding a penalty which centre Paddy Jackson kicked.
Then, centre Bennett twice beat the first man up to give Scotland momentum and out-half Harry Leonard faked a long pass left, darting inside the Irish defence to make it 11-3 in the 19th minute.
Once again, Ireland’s reply was swift, out-half Ritchie McMaster working off a solid platform to land a drop goal from straight in front of the posts.
Bennett was back at it again, sending replacement Mitch Eadie through the middle to draw a penalty from the scrambling Irish cover and then kicking the ensuing penalty for a 14-6 gap by the 25th minute.
The Irish just lacked sparkle. Still, blindside flanker Ben Johnstone could not resist the temptation to play the ball off his feet.
Jackson kept Ireland in touch from left of the posts, before Bennett blasted over when Conor Gilsenan strayed offside at a lineout to make it 17-9 at the break.
Ireland showed greater intensity on the resumption. They were helped by a couple of canny introductions from the bench in Luke McGrath, JJ Hanrahan and Aaron Conneely.
Winger Coghlan Murray carved up the midfield for replacement Peter Nelson to score with his first touch. Jackson added the extras in the 40th minute.
Suddenly, the Irish were moving the ball out of the tackle, fixing defenders and creating space. A Jackson half-break was all that was needed for Coghlan Murray to steam onto a flat pass for Ireland’s second converted try, four minutes later, for a 23-17 turnaround.
A period of high pace rugby concluded with Coghlan Murray streaking clear to get in behind the cover and full-back Jones showing great strength and commitment to make it into the right corner. Jackson’s conversion came back off the upright.
Scotland snatched a late consolation try through out-half Leonard, who also knocked over the conversion in injury-time, but Ireland held on to claim a morale-boosting win.
IRELAND U-18 SCHOOLS: Ross Jones (Castleknock College); Stephen Macauley (Clongowes Wood College), Garret O’Suilleabhain (Clongowes Wood College), Paddy Jackson (Methodist College) (vice capt, Sam Coghlan Murray (Newbridge College); Ritchie McMaster (Coleraine Academical Institution), Harry Doyle (Royal School Armagh); Niall Scannell (Presentation Brothers College, Cork) (capt), James Rael (Castletroy Community College), Peter Reilly (Castleknock College), Yasin Browne (Christian Brothers College, Cork), Daniel Qualter (Sligo Grammar School), Eoghan Cross (Crescent Community College), Conor Gilsenan (Clongowes Wood College), Jack Conan (St. Gerard’s School).
Replacements used: JJ Hanrahan (Rockwell College) for McMaster (34 mins), Aaron Conneely (Colaiste Iognaid) for Cross (half-time), Peter Nelson (Royal School Dungannon) for O’Suilleabhain, Luke McGrath (St. Michael’s College) for Doyle (both 40), Shane Buckley (Rockwell College) for Conan (47), Adam Clarkin (Terenure College) for Gilsenan (61), Gary McConnell (Sligo Grammar School) for Rael (69).
SCOTLAND U-18: Stuart Hogg (Heriot’s); Harris Jones (Boroughmuir), Michael Crawley (Stewart’s Melville College), Mark Bennett (Cumnock RFC), Aidan McCall Hagan (West of Scotland); Harry Leonard (Brighton College), Murray McConnell (Lenzie Academy/West of Scotland) (capt); Robin Hislop (Hawick Wanderers), Jack Macfarlane (Gourock High School/Greenock Wanderers), Alex Allan (Sedbergh), Andrew Redmayne (Kilmarnock), Stuart Smith (North Berwick), Ben Johnstone (Stewart’s Melville College), Adam de Ste Croix (Boroughmuir), Lawrie Seydak (Edinburgh Academy).
Replacements used: Mitch Eadie (Filton College) for Redmayne (15 mins), George Turner (Stewart’s Melville College) for Macfarlane (half-time), Jamie Stevenson (Whitgift) for McConnell (58), Jamie Urquhart (Stirling County) for Bennett (63), Andrew Hall (Strathallan) for Jones (68).
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)