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Ireland U-18 Schools Team Close Out Championship With Play-Off Win

Ireland U-18 Schools Team Close Out Championship With Play-Off Win

The Ireland Under-18 Schools team won today’s 7th-8th place play-off at the Rugby European U-18 European Championship in Tournefeuille, France, overcoming Scotland 21-12 thanks to tries from St. Michael’s centre Jack Kelly and Glenstal Abbey’s Colm Hogan.

Ireland started quite well with good field position and captain Bill Johnston converted a penalty for a 3-0 lead inside 10 minutes. However, Scotland used a penalty to kick for the corner and after setting up a lineout maul, they drove the Irish pack backwards for a converted try from prop George Thornton and a 7-3 scoreline.

The Irish scrummaging was the best it has been in the tournament and the breakdown play was more effective and efficient than it was in the previous games against Georgia and Wales.

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Against a much bigger and heavier front five, the Irish front row of Daniel Kealey, Conor McEvoy and Peter Cooper did well, particularly in the second half. In the back row, Caelan Doris, who celebrated his 17th birthday just two days ago, was immense along with John Foley. 

Ireland fought back and went through the phases in impressive fashion. Some brilliant ball-handling skills saw them move possession swiftly from left to right and centre Jack Kelly crossed the whitewash for Johnston to convert.

Skipper Johnston, who reverted to out-half from inside centre, had his most composed game in the green jersey, and his clever game management played no small part in the winning of the game. Alongside him at half-back, Jonathon Stewart marshalled the forwards well and after scoring his try, centre Kelly had more of an impact on proceedings.

Ireland maintained good field position before Johnston's 19th-minute penalty pushed the lead out to 13-7. But Scotland hit back in determined fashion in the closing five minutes before half-time, setting up an unconverted try for winger Ross McCann which made it a one-point game at the break – 13-12.

The second half saw Ireland have a slight wind at their backs and they used it quite effectively. Opportunities came but errors stopped stopped them in their tracks before Johnston added a penalty on 48 minutes.

The Irish forwards took up the baton, gaining 20 metres on a very well-executed maul and the resulting penalty saw Scotland prop Adam Nicol sin-binned. Johnston stepped up to split the posts and make it a four-point margin.

Ireland were in control for the next 10 minutes, building pressure through the forwards before the ball was shifted from right to left among the backs. Full-back Colm Hogan ran a terrific line, stepping inside an initial defender, then going outside a second before beating a third near the try-line to score a superb solo effort and seal a deserved victory for Noel McNamara's youngsters.

It was a fourth game in 16 days for this group of players who only came together for the first time 18 days ago. The fact that they reversed the result of a warm-up game against Scotland in Dundee (21-13) is a sign they have improved.

Following today's encounter, Ireland U-18 Schools team manager John McKinney spoke about the development he had seen in the squad over the past three weeks.

“There is no doubt about it, that (the players) have developed. Had that not been the case, they wouldn't have won today. The gap between good football as a school and good football as an international team is a far wider gap than that between schools and provincial level. There is less time to prepare for it, which makes it more of a challenge as well,” he said.

“Therefore the learning curve is much steeper all round and that is why more is asked, and to their enourmous credit more of the boys was given. You hope for improvement and development.

“If your objective is about player development, and looking at the present with an eye all the time with developing the young men for the future of the game, to remain in the game and develop through the IRFU's elite pathway, there is no doubt about that, there has been development.”

McKinney added: “It is extremely important for us, because these are two years (between Schools and Under-20 level) where mentally and physically, young men are continuing to develop and grow. Programmes are in place to help them in rugby and in the wider context of life, do they want to make senior internationals or professional players…these next two years, as well, are going to make an enormous difference.

“These young men, as well, should have academic aspirations, which is a very healthy situation for them to keep. It is not just rugby, but to have a balance to their lives. That will help with their development.”

Referee: Inigo Atorrasagasti (Spain)