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Ireland U-18 Clubs Side Draw With England

Ireland U-18 Clubs Side Draw With England

The Ireland Under-18 Clubs team turned in a terrific first half performance in Sunday’s match at Ashbourne RFC, but an experienced England Combined Schools and Clubs side came back to earn a share of the spoils.

The Greg Lynch-coached Ireland team were disappointed with the 23-23 draw against England, having led 17-0 at half-time.

The match, played in very hot conditions at the excellent Ashbourne RFC grounds in front of a large crowd, was the proverbial match of two halves with Ireland winning the first half and England the second.

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The Ireland Under-18 Clubs side had one enforced change from the original line-up. In the back row, Cronan Gleeson replaced Sean O’Brien who sustained an injury during training.

Ireland kicked off with the wind at their backs. Openside flanker Akhlaque Khan scored an unconverted try in the left hand corner after just four minutes, following a sustained bout of pressure.

Ireland caught the restart and retained possession to once again force England back into their 22. In the ninth minute, centre Thomas Daly punished England indiscipline at the breakdown when he knocked over a penalty from the 10-metre line.

Following another good restart collection by number 8 and captain Eoghan Masterson, Ireland went on the attack again.

An excellent break by full-back David Panter once again took play deep into the England half and again the visitors were penalised by referee Jason Griffiths. Daly added the points to extend Ireland's lead to 11-0 with only 11 minutes on the clock.

Ireland continued to dominate both possession and territory, making good use of the wind and the threatening runs of speedy winger Tom Flynn, who tested the English defence on a number of occasions.

With 18 minutes gone, England were once again penalised at the breakdown and Daly fired over the kick for a 14-0 advantage.

The Irish pack, with lock Ultan Dillane and back rowers Masterson, Khan and Conor Joyce particularly prominent, took the game to the English as the first half progressed.

In the 26th minute, Daly once again stepped up to punish the English who, in trying to run the ball from deep, turned it over and then compounded the error by conceding a penalty for offside in the backs.

Daly's fourth successful place-kick gave Ireland what should have been a comfortable 17-0 lead at half-time.

Both teams went into the dressing rooms at the break to get some respite from the hot sun. Ireland made one change at half time, bringing on Kieran Butler for Conall Doherty at centre.

When the match restarted, it was England who gained the upper hand in the opening minutes as Ireland were punished for errors and indiscipline.

Ireland's restart catch, an area that had looked so secure in the first half, was poor and referee Griffiths penalised them allowing English captain Freddie Gabbitass to kick the opening points of the half within the first two minutes.

Ireland then failed to clear their lines and were penalised at the ruck, allowing out-half Gabbitass to narrow the gap to 17-6.

The home side now looked nervy in possession, all of their first half confidence and assurance when in possession had gone, and once again they gave away a silly penalty.

Fortunately the kick was missed, but by now the English side were playing with a new found confidence. Ireland's cause was not helped when out-half Liam Bourke was forced off with an ankle injury, prompting a reshuffle in the back-line.

Daly moved to out-half with Panter reverting to centre and replacement Adam Byrne took over at full-back. Ireland then enjoyed a short period of possession and it looked as they may have weathered the storm.

But unfortunately, a good try-scoring opportunity was missed when, following a good break by Panter, the ball was not given to the free man on the outside.

England took heart from this let-off and took play deep into the Irish half where once again indiscipline was punished as Gabbitass converted the penalty to close the gap to 17-9.

Ireland brought on Jamie Dever for Ryan Furniss. Following a superb break by winger Flynn, who picked up a loose England kick and set off on a great counter attacking run, Ireland were awarded a penalty which Daly converted to restore the 11-point buffer.

This should have settled the Irish youngsters, but following the restart they were penalised for failing to release and England kicked to the corner.

They used a solid lineout to move the ball swiftly into midfield where a well-angled run from full-back Jamie-John Kilmartin breached the home defence and saw him score close to the posts. Gabbitass added the extras for a 20-16 scoreline.

Daly converted a penalty from in front of the posts as England infringed after the restart. However, even the Irish lineout, which had been sound, was affected as they lost three on their own throw as the match clock ran down.

England continued to pressurise and only valiant Ireland tackling held their line intact in the closing minutes.

With one minute to go, Ireland were awarded a penalty inside their own half but unfortunately for them the kick failed to find touch.

England ran the ball and Tom Crozier drew the final two defenders before passing for fellow replacement Jacob Wilson to charge down the wing and dot down. Gabbitass held his nerve to land the conversion and get his side back level.

Ireland regained possession at the restart but were forced into touch in the last play of the game. This young Irish squad will have learned a bitter lesson with regards to game management and ball retention against an England side who were a few months older.

The Ireland U-18 Clubs squad now have just five days to regroup before they meet France in Quimper next Saturday (April 16). Their match, which will take place at Stade de Penvillers,  will kick off at 7.30pm local time.

Referee: Jason Griffiths (Wales)