The Ireland Under-18 Schools side (sponsored by PricewaterhouseCoopers) put in another spirited display but opponents England proved too strong in Tuesday’s U-18 Five Nationsl Festival tie at Llandovery RFC.
UNDER-18 FIVE NATIONS FESTIVAL: Tuesday, April 6
IRELAND UNDER-18 SCHOOLS 17 ENGLAND UNDER-18 41, Llandovery RFC
Scorers: Ireland: Try: Niall Scannell; Pens: Paddy Jackson 3; Drop: Cathal Marsh
Wales: Tries: Koree Britton, Charlie Walker, Chris Walker, Elliot Daly, George Ford, Ben Ransom; Cons: George Ford 4; Pen: George Ford
It never pays to play the poor mouth these days. Ireland has learned to thrive in an environment where their resources are a fraction of those enjoyed by the larger nations.
However, the sheer physical size and volume of the players on offer to England made this a boys-versus-men encounter.
The Irish pack was working against a 55 kilos concession in weight – that is 17 stones in old money. This included the presence of 127 kilos, or 20 stones, blindside flanker in Billy Vunipola.
England were driven by the internal goal to achieve an Under-18 Grand Slam, having already beaten France (33-16), Italy (28-12), Wales (43-22) and Scotland (29-9) this season, as well as a 30-28 victory over Australian Schools in December.
Immediately, lock Shane Buckley was pinged for going off his feet at the first ruck. England out-half George Ford, the son of former Ireland defence coach Mike Ford, booted it home for a first minute lead.
Straight away, swift lineout ball from Conor Gilsenan at the tail and Paddy Jackson’s strong line onto the ball drew a penalty for hands in the ruck by openside flanker Chris Walker. Jackson tied it up from in front of the posts.
Then, Ford’s inch perfect diagonal kick forced a lineout from which hooker Koree Britton eventually barrelled to the line for Ford to convert in the sixth minute.
Still, the signals were so much better for Ireland than in the first game against Wales. The Irish scavenged manically at the breakdown.
Full-back Ross Jones countered from a poor clearance at the end of which out-half Cathal Marsh stroked over a drop goal.
The danger for Ireland came when England were able to get a foothold in their half and go through their well-practiced moves.
From one, the back-line opened the door for left winger Charlie Walker to be the extra man out wide for their second try and a 15-6 advantage.
When Irish captain Niall Scannell was jerked back after coming through the middle of a ruck to hack the ball on, Jackson nailed his third penalty in the 26th minute.
The swarming Irish were there to earn a penalty for holding on when England full-back Ben Ransom tried to run from deep. Jackson was on the mark from the right on the half-hour mark.
If Ireland could hold out until the break they would be in good nick, even into the teeth of the wind. But this was a scenario that unfortunately did not play out.
A wheeled scrum led to lost ball and an England lineout five metres out. They were able to engineer a drive for number 7 Walker to touch down to make it 20-12 at the interval.
Out-half Marsh’s perfect pass set Ireland alight, Sam Coghlan Murray beating his man only to go himself instead of making use of the unopposed Mark Corballis. It was so near and yet so far.
They came again. The handling was a delight. The Irish were oozing football, keeping it simple, moving the ball away from England’s heavy hitters and into the open spaces. They just needed a try. It did not come.
Ford’s precise kick forced Ireland into the concession of a lineout close to their line. When the catch and drive did notwork, the out-half’s side door pass was taken home by centre Elliot Daly. Ford’s conversion made it 27-12 in the 50th minute.
It was starting to look one-sided. Ford got the better of his opposite number Marsh for their fifth try which he also converted.
Then, full-back Ben Ransom had the wheels to take advantage of a slip in concentration from the Irish, with Ford again adding the extras.
Encouragingly, the Irish never stopped dipping their shoulders into the tackle and they got a semblance of reward for their application when Coghlan Murray sparked a last-minute attack.
Replacement JJ Hanrahan’s accurate diagonal kick was caught and touched down by skipper Scannell to end the match on a positive note.
IRELAND U-18 SCHOOLS: Ross Jones (Castleknock College); Mark Corballis (St. Michael’s College), Peter Nelson (Royal School Dungannon), Paddy Jackson (Methodist College) (vice capt), Sam Coghlan Murray (Newbridge College); Cathal Marsh (St. Michael’s College), Luke McGrath (St. Michael’s College); Rory Harrison (Methodist College), Niall Scannell (Presentation Brothers College, Cork) (capt), Kyle McCall (Wallace High School), Shane Buckley (Rockwell College), Jack Conan (St. Gerard’s School), Conor Gilsenan (Clongowes Wood College), Aaron Conneely (Colaiste Iognaid), Daniel Qualter (Sligo Grammar School).
Replacements used: Peter Reilly (Castleknock College) for McCall (22 mins, temp; 50), Des Merrey (The King’s Hospital) for Harrison (half-time), Stephen Macauley (Clongowes Wood College) for Corballis, Harrison for Merrey (both 55), JJ Hanrahan (Rockwell College) for Nelson (60), Eoghan Cross (Crescent Community College) for Conneely (66), Ritchie McMaster (Coleraine Academical Institution) for Marsh, Harry Doyle (Royal School Armagh) for McGrath (both 67).
ENGLAND U-18: Ben Ransom (Tonbridge/Saracens); Marland Yarde (Whitgift/London Irish), Elliot Daly (Whitgift/London Wasps), Ryan Mills (Hartpury College/Gloucester), Charlie Walker (Oakham); George Ford (Rishworth/Leicester Tigers) (capt), Joel Hodgson (RGS Newcastle/Newcastle Falcons); Nick Auterac (Oaklands College/Saracens), Koree Britton (Ivybridge College/Exeter Chiefs), Anthony Brennan (Twyford CofE/London Wasps), Dominic Barrow (Prince Henry’s GS Otley/Leeds Carnegie), Sam Twomey (Dulwich College/Harlequins), Billy Vunipola (Harrow/London Wasps), Chris Walker (Prince Henry’s GS Otley/Leeds Carnegie), Matt Kvesic (Worcester Sixth Form College/Worcester Warriors).
Replacements used: Dan Robson (Hartpury College/Gloucester) for Hodgson (40 mins), Will Skuse (Bryanston/Bath) for Chris Walker, Kyle Sinckler (Epsom College/Harlequins) for Brennan (both 43), Mark Jennings (Lymm HS/Sale Sharks) for Yarde (55), Jamie Elliott (Bedford/Northampton Saints) for Daly (59), Nathan Morris (Sedbergh/Newcastle Falcons) for Britton, George Merrick (Whitgift/Harlequins) for Twomey (both 61).
Referee: Chris Williams (Wales)