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Ireland U-18 Clubs Side Beaten By Italy

Ireland U-18 Clubs Side Beaten By Italy

In their first match of a three-international programme, the Wayne Mitchell-coached Ireland Under-18 Clubs team lost to an experienced Italy Under 18 side in front of a passionate large crowd in Badia Polesine on Saturday afternoon.

Prior to departing for Italy, the Ireland Under-18 Clubs team management were forced into a reshuffle of their back-three when Exiles full-back Alex Webb suffered a hamstring injury.

Kilkenny and Leinster's Sean Moran was added to the replacements bench with Adrian Enright of Abbeyfeale and Munster moved to full-back and Enniscorthy and Leinster's Jim White replacing him on the left wing.

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In ideal playing conditions, the Irish got off to a good start when Italy were penalised straight the kick-off. Navan and Leinster out-half Fergal Cleary converted the long range penalty to give his side a 3-0 lead.

The Italians were spurred into action and after sustained pressure they were awarded a penalty straight in front of the posts, on the 22, for an infringement at the breakdown. Filippo Buscema landed the resulting 12th minute kick.

Ireland put pressure on Italy from the restart and a strong run from Exiles winger James O'Sullivan brought play deep into the Italian half, but the Italians hit back on the counter attack.

Following a kick and chase, the ball bounced kindly for the hosts enabling their centre Samuel Seno to score in the corner. The conversion was missed, leaving Ireland 8-3 behind.

From the restart Irish pressure led to a penalty being awarded for a breakdown offence and from 35 metres out and straight in front, out-half Cleary once again split the posts.

However, minutes later, another Irish transgression at the breakdown led to the awarding of an Italian penalty and from a similar position to their first penalty Buscema stretched the home side's advantage to 11-6.

With half-time approaching, Wayne Mitchell's youngsters won a ball just inside the Italian half and moved it right across the back-line to winger O'Sullivan who outpaced the cover to score in the corner.

To the astonishment of the Irish players and the sizeable Irish support, English referee John Meredith disallowed the try after consultation with his Italian assistant.

Ireland had a further opportunity to close the gap when, following a penalty award, they kicked deep into the Italian 22. Yet, a knock on at the lineout allowed Italy to clear their lines and go in at half-time five points ahead.

A strong start to the second half by the Irish forwards led to sustained pressure on the Italian line. Following a number of pick and drives, Monivea and Connacht scrum half Caolin Blade darted over in the left corner for a try.

Cleary's conversion attempt unfortunately hit a post and rebounded out, leaving the sides tied at 11-all.

Ireland controlled the opening 10 minutes of the second half but an Italian counter attack led to another simple penalty opportunity for Buscema when yet again Ireland were deemed to transgress at the breakdown.

His kick, much to the delight of the vocal Italian fans, soared between the posts to once again give Italy a three-point buffer.

Ireland looked to have hit back when quick thinking saw Birr and Leinster prop Peter Dooley threw the ball in quickly at a lineout for Ballymoney and Ulster lock Russell Blair to race in for a try – but once again the score was disallowed.

Italy, having gained a reprieve, went on the attack and forced a penalty which was successfully converted by Buscema for a 17-11 score-line.

Ireland replaced the injured O'Sullivan with Seamus Keating (Dungarvan and Munster) and White with late call-up Moran.

In the forwards, Exile Luke Connolly replaced Russell Blair and Malahide and Leinster back rower Killian Sweeney replaced the Exiles' Joe Bercis.

Ireland were determined to get a result and pressurised the Italian defence in the closing minutes. However, the determined and well-organised hosts kept the Irish at bay.

After a succession of pick and drives with Waterpark and Munster's Jack O'Donoghue to the fore, Ireland seemed to have breached the Italian defence close in.

But referee Meredith, after consulting with one of his assistants, deemed that Ireland's final effort was held up. This signalled the end of the match and led to wild celebrations from the ecstatic Italian players and management.

This was an excellent effort by an untried Irish squad who can take great heart from the number of chances they created against a much more experienced Italian side, who will be representing their country in the European Under-18 Championships in Spain in Easter.

The Ireland Under-18 Clubs side's next match will be against the France Under-18s at St. Mary's College RFC on Thursday, April 5.

Referee: John Meredith (England)