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Bright Futures Ahead For Ireland U-18 Clubs & Schools’ Class Of 2018

Bright Futures Ahead For Ireland U-18 Clubs & Schools’ Class Of 2018

The Ireland Under-18 Clubs & Schools team (sponsored by PwC) were left to rue a disallowed first half try as a late rally saw England U-18 Counties triumph 32-29 in Portsmouth on Saturday and take the series 2-0.

As was the case during Wednesday's opener which England won 15-13, there was very little between the sides in this rematch with two tries apiece in a first half which ended 17-all. Forwards Mark Nicholson (5 minutes) and Darragh Murray (34) touched down for Ireland, with backs William Rigg and Aaron Grandidier-Nkanang claiming five-pointers for the hosts.

It was four tries each as the vocal crowd got more than the money's worth in terms of entertaining rugby and sheer drama. Twice Ireland forged ahead thanks to tries from IQ Rugby duo Tom Bacon and Hayden Hyde, the latter's 61st-minute score giving them a 29-24 lead in the closing stages.

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England lost out-half Thomas Knight-Owen and centre Rigg to the sin-bin for two off-the-ball incidents, but they also got the rub of the green with some key decisions by the match officials. They made the most of them to run in a leveling try through replacement Edward Cox and full-back Aaron Simmonds supplied the winning penalty goal with the last kick of the game.

The Ireland U-18 players and coaches can still be very proud of a memorable couple of weeks which saw them defeat Canada U-19s 2-0 in a home series in Dublin, while they were desperately unlucky not to win at least one of their encounters with England Counties, who avenged last year's brace of defeats in Ashbourne.

With improved conditions compared to the midweek mud-fest at the United Services ground, it was Ireland who held the early edge. A couple of penalties put them into position in the English 22 and following Chris Moore's lineout win, Wicklow hooker Nicholson retrieved the ball at the back of a flying 15-metre maul which took him over near the right corner. Scrum half Shane Murphy converted the try with a crisp strike.

England were back level within three minutes, Rigg reaching his centre partner Zach Clow's kick through – just ahead of Ireland full-back Oran McNulty – and hacking through to score out wide on the left. Simmonds' conversion tied the teams up at seven points apiece.

The hosts were able to deal with Ireland's next lineout drive in the 22, and Rockwell College's Jack Hunt was tackled into touch after a neat back-line move which was spearheaded by the strong-running Hyde, one of five IQ Rugby players in the starting XV. However, the Irish forwards soon drove England back with a monster maul from just inside the English 10-metre line up to five metres out from the whitewash.

Nicholson and loosehead Fionn Flanagan took turns in controlling the ball at the rear, and then from a close-in ruck, Skerries clubman Murphy sniped over for a try. Unfortunately for Ireland, Welsh referee Richard Deacy ruled out the score due to his own positioning, but it had not hampered or interfered with the two English defenders who Murphy was able to break inside.

Play was called back for an earlier infringement and Shane Murphy sent a straightforward penalty through the posts for a 10-7 lead. As the action swung quickly between both halves, England almost hit back with a try but were correctly pinged for crossing. They remained in the Irish 22, though, and a subsequent offside allowed Simmonds to boot them level.

With English tighthead James Sherlock going unpunished for binding on the arm, the hosts were able to convert the territory into points as elusive winger Grandidier-Nkanang, fielding a Murphy kick that failed to make touch, slipped through up the left touchline and dotted down after not being held in the tackle.

Simmonds supplied the extras with another very good kick from the left, but Ireland enjoyed an encouraging finish to the opening 35 minutes. Campbell College prop Paddy McAlpine charged down Knight-Owens' clearance kick, while a clever lineout move between Moore and Nicholson freed up the latter for a charge up the left touchline. England looked like they might survive up to the break, until Buccaneers lock Murray charged down Harry Craven's attempted clearance and grounded the loose ball for a timely try, converted by Murphy.

Ireland swiftly took up the baton again on the resumption, winning a penalty inside the English half after an initial jinking run and kick chase from winger Bacon. The forwards carried up close from the resulting lineout, but Murray's pass missed both McNulty and Hyde, near the left touchline, with the try-line in their sights.

There was further encouragement offered by captain Evan Murphy's lineout steal, a penalty win at the breakdown by Liam Winnett and fellow replacement Saul O'Carroll's tackle which forced a knock-on from Clow. There was a degree of niggle in the game and Knight-Owen's nasty swinging arm after a tackle saw referee Deacy produce his yellow card in the 50th minute.

Just moments after his introduction, Charlie O'Doherty fed Bacon after a maul had been brought to ground and the Henley College student evaded a last-ditch tackle to score near the right corner. Michael Cooke, another fresh player from the bench, converted for a 24-17 advantage.

Although Simmonds missed a penalty in response, England duly struck for a very good third try from halfway. Playing with a penalty advantage, Clow broke through up the left wing with a hand-off and pacy run, setting up the supporting Grandidier-Nkanang to complete his brace and Simmonds added the levelling conversion.

A promising break involving McNulty and Hyde, off Cooke's wide pass, was halted outside the English 22, yet with both players on the ground, Rigg appeared to knee his opposite number Tommy Downes in the back. The referee was well placed to spot it and bin the English player, saying 'that's completely unacceptable in this sport'.

Try number four followed for Ireland and it owed much to replacement out-half Cooke's distribution. His flat pass initially put Ed Brennan through a hole in the defence, and then Cooke's skip pass put Hyde over in the right corner. With the wind getting up, Cooke's conversion attempt fell just short.

Trying to protect their lead, Ireland benefited from lineout steals by an airborne Murphy and also Winnett, who gobbled up an overthrow, but England were building for a big finish. Joshua Goodwin got away with a forward pass as he released fellow replacement Evan Davies, who broke brilliantly up the right wing and into the 22. The defence was stretched and some lovely handling from backs and forwards sent replacement Cox raiding over from the left.

The tension increased when Bacon succeeded in charging down Simmonds' conversion attempt. That kick would have put England in front and the miss gave Ireland some late hope. They desperately tried to claw back territory and manufacture another score, but in doing so, England pinned them back near the 22 and competed ferociously at the breakdown.

One or two rucks could have resulted in Irish penalties – Knight-Owen was not supporting his own body weight as he competed for the ball and then, a phase or so later, Grandidier-Nkanang, as an assist tackler, had no clear release. However, play continued and Ireland were eventually whistled up for holding on. The frustration got the better of Blackrock College back rower Brennan who was sin-binned for shouting at the referee, and it was left to Simmonds who held his nerve to land the decisive kick from the 22-metre line.

Referee: Richard Deacy (Wales)