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Ireland Schools Suffer Play-Off Defeat

Ireland Schools Suffer Play-Off Defeat

A lack of preparation time cost Ireland dearly as they went a lot closer than the 29-12 scoreline would suggest of springing a surprise in this FIRA-AER Under-18 European Championship qualifier at Donnybrook.

It was difficult to see how the Ireland Under-18 Schools players could cope with the disparity in size and muscle. They lost two against the head in the first two minutes in what was a tough contest at the scrum.

The next two provided direct penalties. They needed leaders and they had one in blindside flanker Dan Leavy, who crunched into the tackle from minute one.

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He was not alone. Lock Jerry Sexton, a brother of Leinster and Ireland's Jonathan Sexton, forced a penalty at the breakdown and out-half Steve Crosbie rocked England's Dominic Barrow with a hit.

Ireland's only avenue to attack was through a high tempo, high octane approach. Scrum half and captain Luke McGrath's tap-and-go effort from a penalty took him just too far away from his support.

In the 15th minute, England made their first serious attack count by offloading quickly for centre Sam Hill to put left winger Anthony Watson through a hole on the right. Out-half Will Hooley converted for a 7-0 lead.

Ireland's outstanding flanker Leavy was leading the resistance with successive heavy hitting on whatever ball carrier came his way.

He almost sparked an instant reply for Jack O'Neill to claim what looked like a try only for referee Cedric Marchat to call play back for a knock on at the lineout.

Still, it was positive rugby. Ireland were inclined to hold onto the ball as they were seriously over-matched in the scrum and lineout. Left winger Mark Roche was short from a 20th minute penalty when England could not hold their discipline at a ruck.

Suddenly, the pressure was coming and the visitors did not relish it. Prop Edward Byrne nailed Jack Arnott in the tackle and Hooley's hurried clearance under pressure gave Ireland a lineout.

They moved with purpose. When England looked to have snuffed out the danger, McGrath slipped over unnoticed on the blindside to reduce the gap to 7-5 in the 22nd minute.

England came alive on the counter when the ball was knocked from McGrath's grasp. Full-back Jack Nowell fizzed for 40 metres and scrum half Alex Day looked odds-on to score but for the vigilance of winger Roche in making the tackle.
Then, Ireland conceded a penalty. Hooley was wide on the right from 40 metres.

It was not all backfoot desperation. The Irish used a Sexton take and drive at a lineout to apply pressure. Roche was driven into touch metres from the line and the forwards had more than one go at glory before Crosbie pulled a drop goal left on the half-time whistle. It was all to play for.

Impressive lock Sean McCarthy's wonderful steal against the throw was overshadowed by winger Watson's acceleration down the left. He was caught from behind by Rory Scholes only for Ireland to suffer a penalty for not rolling away on the ground. Hooley clipped the ball over to make it 10-5 in the 37th minute.

Soon, England went off their feet in their anxiety for quick ball as Irish openside O'Neill made a nuisance of himself. Roche's solid strike slid left and wide.

But it did not stop there. The home forwards tested the England fringes with an old fashioned pick-and-drive. A penalty ensued. Crosbie could not convert. Neither could Roche from the left in the 50th minute.

It was a sight to see. Ireland simply refused to be distracted by their inability to kick their goals. Eventually, Crosbie went for a lineout.

The ball was transferred at controlled haste for Leavy to find loosehead Byrne rampaging to the line. Roche's conversion shot Ireland in front at 12-10 in the 56th minute.

Ireland had to claim the restart. Centre Chris Farrell did that. They had to clear the ball to the far end of the field and keep England under wraps. They could not do that, however.

English full-back Nowell found top gear too quickly for the defence to react and claimed a crucial try. Replacement Henry Slade's conversion made it 17-12 in the 62nd minute.

The excitement was palpable. It could have gone either way with eight minutes left on the clock. But, England smelled blood.

Replacement scrum half James Lightfoot-Brown dived over the top of a ruck and centre Mark Jennings finished from further out to give a lopsided final scoreline to what was a closely-fought encounter.

Referee: Cedric Marchat (France)