The Ireland Under-18 Clubs team suffered a last-gasp 13-11 defeat to the England U-18 Counties at Hartpury College today, as winger Myles Bean’s try decided a closely-fought affair.
Wayne Mitchell's youngsters looked to be heading for their second win of the International Triangular Festival, with replacement Luke Carty landing a penalty for an 11-8 lead with five minutes left.
However, England had the final say as they went for the corner from a late penalty. With the close-in lineout won, they retained possession until working an overlap on the right for Myles Bean to go over in the corner and spark jubilant celebrations.
The conversion was not needed as the English Counties side gave their retiring head coach Dave Reed a winning send-off at the Gloucester venue.
The game was played in near perfect conditions. Ireland were forced into a late change as Highfield's Ian McCarthy injured his hand during the warm-up and Jack Aungier from Suttonians was drafted in for his second successive start at tighthead prop.
England made the early running but Ireland repelled a number of attacks and given the intensity of the encounter, errors were made by both sides. The Irish scrum performed well against the physically bigger English pack and more than held its own, putting immense pressure on the hosts' set piece.
England edged the lineout battle and some turnover balls gave them a decent attacking platform. The game remained scoreless until just before half-time when English centre James Shillcock converted a penalty for a 3-0 advantage.
Mitchell and his fellow coaches made four changes at the break, bringing on Tadgh McElroy, Greg McGrath and Conor Hand up front along with Exiles scrum half Niall Saunders.
Skibbereen's Liam Coombes, who started at out-half for Ireland, kicked the levelling penalty six minutes into the second period. Ireland started to play some very good rugby and the error count decreased for both sides.
As the pace of the game quickened, winger Ben Usher went over for England's first try following a bout of pressure, but Shillcock's conversion attempt came back off the left hand post.
It was then Ireland's turn to test out the English defence and powerful prop Aungier was adjudged to have knocked on as he stretched over the line following multiple phases. Captain Conor Farrell led by example as the visitors continued to press for a try with some fine spells of continuity.
Ireland's persistence was rewarded when Mullingar centre Sean O'Brien finished off an overlap for an unconverted 55th minute score soon after. The Irish remained on the front foot and Carty's well-struck penalty edged them ahead for the first time.
However, the dogged English Counties team and Bean had other ideas, grabbing the decisive try with about 45 seconds remaining and winning a very entertaining and hard-fought clash.
Despite the narrow defeat, the Irish players will take a huge amount from the three-team competition, with Aungier, skipper Farrell, Jack Regan, Otto Gray, Paul Boyle and Joe Carley the standout performers against England.