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Ireland U-18 Schools Side Lose To Wales In High-Scoring Contest

Ireland U-18 Schools Side Lose To Wales In High-Scoring Contest

The Ireland Under-18 Schools team (sponsored by PwC) fell to a 36-28 defeat to Wales in their second game of the Under-18 Six Nations Festival at Cardiff Arms Park this afternoon. Steffan Thomas reports from the Welsh capital.

Peter Smyth's youngsters opened their account with a hard-fought 20-17 victory over Italy last Saturday but, with 11 changes to the starting XV, they could not repeat the feat against a well-balanced Wales side.

Tries from centre Angus Adair and replacements Alex Kendellen, who bagged his third score of the Easter period, Nathan Doak and John McKee was not enough to claim the win as Ireland were outscored by six tries to four by the tournament hosts.

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Sancta Maria College's Dylan Prendergast, who made his first start in the number 10 jersey, opened the scoring for the visitors with a penalty from 25 metres out after the Welsh were whistled up for sealing off at the breakdown.

Despite a promising start from the visitors, it was Wales who got the first try of the match. After a series of powerful driving lineouts, a real area of strength for the home side, their hooker Cameron Lewis forced his way over for a try which out-half Josh Thomas converted.

But RBAI's Adair, who has been ever-present in the Irish midfield, hit back in the 22nd minute when he crossed in the far right hand corner. Following a series of powerful carries close to the Welsh try-line, the ball was recycled to St. Michael's College full-back Chris Cosgrave who put Adair over.

Ireland lost their concentration immediately after the restart, though, and that allowed Wales to score again. Centre Osian Knott stripped the ball from the clutches of Prendergast which put Smyth's charges under the cosh. After a series of forward surges, Wales went wide with a well-executed floating pass from Knott putting winger Louis Rees-Zammit over.

Ireland responded well with an explosive burst from Tullow tighthead prop Charlie Ward resulting in another penalty as Wales were guilty of not rolling away. Prendergast knocked over the ensuing penalty to cut the gap to just 12-11 at half-time.

The momentum swung behind Wales when the elusive Rees-Zammit raced in for his second try of the game straight after the break, with outside centre Joe Roberts piercing the Irish defence initially with a scything run. It took Wales a mere three minutes after their second try to cross the whitewash again. They claimed Prendergast's restart and charged up field before the ball was recycled for giant lock and man-of-the-match Teddy Williams to crash over.

By now the Welsh were in complete control and were able to apply more pressure on the Irish defence, which resulted in Lewis grabbing his second try of the contest having found some space and sprinted down the blindside.

Despite going 29-11 behind, Ireland would not give up and managed to get field position immediately after the restart. Driven on by on-field captain David McCann and replacement prop McKee, who led the team against France and Italy, the visitors went through a number of phases in the Welsh 22 with PBC Cork's Kendellen brushing off two defenders to score out wide on the right.

That 50th-minute score, converted by Prendergast, was cancelled out by a try from Wales captain Jac Morgan off a well-executed lineout maul which had caused Ireland problems all afternoon. Again though, the Ireland U-18s showed their character and resilience with a closing two-try salvo.

In what was arguably the try of the match, Bangor Grammar School's Aaron Sexton brilliantly skinned three Welsh defenders on the outside before drawing in two more to allow replacement half-back Doak to run in unopposed. He missed the conversion himself, and although Wales had Ireland under pressure again late on, it was another Ulsterman, loosehead McKee, who had the final say with a consolation try from close range.

The Ireland U-18 Schools squad will regroup for their final outing of the Festival at the Arms Park on Sunday (kick-off 12pm). Scotland will provide the opposition and they are gunning for a clean sweep of victories after defeating both England (32-27) and France (24-21).

Referee: Alex Thomas (England)