The Ireland Under-18 Schools team, sponsored by PwC, were beaten by a strong England side as they went down 30-14 in today’s FIRA/AER U-18 European Championship final.
Noel McNamara's charges were well in the hunt at half-time in Wronki, Poland, trailing 17-14 with Jack Power and Will Connors crossing for tries.
Defending champions England snuck into the lead before the break when a pass from Connors was intercepted by centre Lucas Slowik who ran in a crucial converted score.
England then struck just five minutes into a cagey second half as free-running full-back Taylor Prell touched down for his second try.
Despite their best efforts against a powerful English pack, the James Ryan-led Irish remained 22-14 behind as the clock ticked down.
They might have scored from a tremendous Max Deegan break, but England scrambled back and eventually managed to keep Ireland scoreless over the closing 35 minutes.
They made certain of the win when place-kicker Harry Mallinder took his tally to 10 points from a penalty and then replacement Josh Bainbridge crashed over for a late try from a lineout maul.
Second row Ryan and his team-mates came into this game with high hopes of claiming Ireland's second ever European crown at this level.
The 2011 team managed to beat England at the final stage three years ago in France and McNamara's young side showed plenty of promise, responding well to the early concession of three points to Mallinder.
Ireland had to make a late change to their back-line with Paul Kiernan taking over in the centre from Colm Mulcahy.
England settled quickly in sunny conditions and out-half Mallinder knocked over a second minute penalty, punishing the Irish for not rolling away.
The Irish forwards enjoyed a good passage of play with captain Ryan making a break, but Matthew Gilsenan misjudged an eighth minute penalty attempt from the right.
Just moments later, Ireland were over for the game's opening try. It was an excellent score from Power, who was shifted forward from full-back to play at outside centre.
Number 8 Deegan used turnover ball to invite Power forward and the Blackrock College starlet broke from the English 10-metre line, profiting from a hand-off and then a neat sidestep past the covering Prell to run in a fantastic individual effort.
The quickly-taken conversion was slotted by Gilsenan. The seven-pointer was a real statement of intent from Ireland, who beat Georgia and France in their two previous matches.
Direct play from England, who included a large number of club Academy players, brought them back into scoring range as their forwards crashed it up at close quarters.
Winger Calvin Nash forced a relieving penalty at the breakdown and clever kicking from Gilsenan kept Ireland on the move, albeit with England exerting an increasing amount of influence at the breakdown.
John Fletcher's outfit retook the lead in the 19th minute when Prell evaded Kiernan's grasp and full-back Jacob Stockdale was unable to prevent his opposite number from touching down to the left of the posts.
After Mallinder added the extras, Ireland bounced back with a probing kick from Stockdale and a stolen lineout in the English 22.
With 23 minutes on the clock, they attacked from a scrum and Ryan was brought down in front of the posts. His second row partner Sean O'Connor picked and went even close before flanker Connors burrowed over from the back of a close-in ruck.
Gilsenan's conversion took Ireland 14-10 clear, however England preyed on Irish mistakes approaching half-time with Gilsenan miscuing a kick to touch and Slowik turning Connors' midfield pass into a breakaway try.
Ireland were playing more of the rugby, attacking on the left inside their own half when Slowik pounced to gallop away and score to the right of the posts.
Again Ireland were quick to threaten after conceding the try with wingers Jordan Larmour and Nash carrying well. England though made a mess of the breakdown and scrum half Rowan Osborne was left exposed at times.
Stockdale was a pass away from putting Larmour into space in the second half, with the winger unable to hold onto Stockdale's offload.
England were clinical in attack when it mattered most and Prell took advantage of another missed tackle – this time from Nash – to complete his brace in the 40th minute.
It was an important moment in what had been a tight encounter up to that point. The English tails were suddenly up and their strongly-built pack got through a number of carries as they attacked around the fringes.
Ireland were having to work harder and harder in defence, but they held firm against the English pressure with openside Johnny Guy winning a vital ruck penalty in his 22.
It was Ireland's turn to attack shortly afterwards, as a clever move from a lineout led to Deegan tearing clear over the halfway line. He was brought down in the 22 and replacement Jimmy O'Brien retained possession before England were penalised.
Ireland went for the corner, trusting their lineout maul that was so effective in previous outings, however this time aggressive defending from England held them at bay.
They never really had the same foothold after that, despite a promising break on the left from Alan McMahon and O'Brien who both made an impact off the bench.
Kiernan lacked support as he was tackled and isolated, leading to a penalty attempt which Mallinder sent to the left and wide.
But the English number 10 made no mistake with a 66th minute effort after Ryan was pinged for a ruck offence, with two-try hero Prell involved in the build-up.
Ireland lost Gilsenan to the sin-bin three minutes later, referee Julien Castaignede ruling that the ball was still in the ruck when the St. Michael's College student tackled scrum half Alex Mitchell.
The infringement allowed England to build from a five-metre lineout and Bainbridge got on the scoresheet from the resulting maul.
The result left the Irish players deflated but they can look back with pride on their time in Poland, with two wins out of three and a very honourable effort in the final against a nation that has now won the last three U-18 European titles.
Referee: Julien Castaignede (France)