Craig Casey’s battling Ireland Under-18 Schools team caused plenty of problems for a massively powerful England side and forced them to come from behind to earn a hard-fought 39-20 victory in the second round of the U-18 International Series at Parc y Scarlets.
Ireland led 10-7 during the first half and then cut a 14-point deficit early in the second period to a mere four points as they did their best to build on their opening round 39-23 win over Italy. They will now go on to play tournament hosts Wales in Caerphilly on Sunday
England came into tonight's game in Llanelli on the back of a nine-try 55-11 thumping of the Canada Under-19s and had made nine changes to that starting XV to freshen things up.
One of the newcomers, centre Tom Hardwick, made a huge impression as he made the half-break for the first try of the game by flanker Charlie Wright and then sliced through the Irish defence to score another to hoist England into a 19-10 interval lead.
Out-half Marcus Smith scored the other English try in the opening half, receiving a return pass on the inside shoulder of lock James Scott to cross in the last move of a half that had seen Ireland score the opening points and then hit back to lead 10-7. Glenstal Abbey number 10 Ben Healy kicked a penalty from the 22-metre line to open the scoring in the seventh minute and the first quarter was dominated by Irish invention.
A great break and then kick and chase by Gonzaga centre Eoin Barr almost earned an immediate try in response to Wright's score, and then Blackrock's Liam Turner came off the right wing to create an extra man in the back-line to almost work fellow winger Jonathan Wren over in the left corner.
Noel McNamara's young guns were not to be denied, though, as they earned a lineout, used Buccaneers' Niall Murray to secure it in the middle and flanker Martin Moloney from Knockbeg College burrowed his way over for a richly deserved try. Healy's conversion made it 10-7 and Ireland were good value for their lead midway through the first half.
The tacking and harrying of the back row trio of Moloney, Scott Penny and Azur Allison made it difficult for England to breathe, but they eventually found a couple of gaps to send Hardwick and Smith over to build a nine-point lead at the break.
England started the second half with a massive driving lineout on the left before switching play to the right for replacement winger Arron Reed to cross with his first touch, just three minutes after the restart. That opened up a 14-point gap, but gallant Ireland kept on coming and hit back immediately.
The introduction of John McKee, Harry Byrne and David Ryan on 50 minutes provided new impetus and one of Byrne's first acts was to float out a wonderful pass to Wren to allow the Pres Cork flyer to race over for a try that got the Irish right back in the contest. Better still, Bryne added the conversion and then kicked a penalty to cut the gap to just 24-20.
England held their nerve and Hardwick kicked a penalty before Reed was sent over in the left corner for his second try to put 12 points between the sides. They ended the match with a flourish as Cadan Murley raced clear from his 22 to the posts for a try that Smith improved to make the scoreline much more flattering than it might have been.
Referee: Aled Evans (Wales)