Andrew Smith’s acrobatically-finished first half try was not enough for the Ireland Under-19s as they went down 17-5 to the Australia Schools & Under-18 team at Energia Park this afternoon.
Reesjan Pasitoa, John Connolly and Angus Bell all crossed for the Australian side, who having been on a tour of Ireland for the past few weeks. This was their third consecutive game on these shores following a 34-15 win over Munster and a 22-17 defeat to Ulster in Belfast on Tuesday.
Ireland replacements Scott Buckley, Aaron Hennessy and Louis Bruce all featured for the Munster Under-19s in their loss to the Australian selection in Limerick and were joined by five of their provincial team-mates for this international clash in Donnbrook.
Leinster, Connacht and Ulster were also represented in the matchday squad, while Harlequins back Hayden Hyde and Sale Sharks flanker Ciaran Booth are the latest players at this age-grade to come through the IQ Rugby Programme.
In a fiery opening to the contest, both sides looked to establish territory. Handling errors at either end brought a halt to any early attacking momentum, although Tom Tierney’s Ireland Under-19s looked set to open their account in the eighth minute.
Crescent College Comprehensive out-half Jack Delaney stepped forward to the kicking tee for a 35-metre shot at goal. He was at an angle that was favourable for his right foot, but the Munster youngster’s strike drifted past the target.
Highly-rated Ulster winger Aaron Sexton got Ireland back into the Australian half with a strong break up the left flank before his opposite number, Viliami Lea, did likewise for the visitors. However, whereas the Bangor Grammar starlet’s offload to Hyde failed to produced dividends, Lea’s carry acted as the springboard for Australia’s deadlock-breaking try in the 13th minute.
Following a series of phases inside the Irish 22, Spencer Jeans passed out wide to half-back partner Pasitoa for a powerful drive over the whitewash. While the same player was wide of the mark with the tricky conversion, the Australians were settling into their stride.
Scrum half Charlie O’Doherty soon stepped up to a long-range penalty for the hosts, from the 10-metre line on the left hand side. Although his effort was firmly struck again, it floated past the far upright as Ireland remained 5-0 down.
Nonetheless, the Irish challenge was beginning to gather pace as the first half progressed. An extended spell inside the opposing half increased the pressure on the tourists, with Banbridge number 8 David McCann particularly prominent. After they created ample space out on the right, lock Paddy Kelly’s quick hands released St. Michael’s College winger Andrew Smith for a well-taken try in the corner.
Delaney’s touchline conversion dropped short of the posts, meaning Ireland remained level at five point apiece. It was only a temporary respite for Tierney’s charges, however, as Australia responded with their second try close to half-time
Capitalising on a defensive mix-up, full-back Connolly applied the finishing touches on the right wing for another unconverted score. That gave them a 10-5 break at the break, leaving Ireland with ground to make up on the resumption.
Clontarf lock Brian Deeny was introduced for the injured Conor McMenamin two minutes into the second period, joining half-time replacement Lewis Finlay on the pitch. Australia were down to 14 men soon after, scrum half Jeans was sin-binned for a late tackle at the tail-end of an Irish attack.
Rather than kicking to the corner and forging a lineout maul, Delaney was called up to take another kick at goal. The wind and rain was playing havoc with the kickers’ accuracy and he once again fired wide of the posts, much to Australia’s relief.
Despite being under the cosh during the sin bin period, they managed to hold out in effective fashion. Delaney’s long cut-out pas to Oran McNulty almost led to a second Ireland try on 48 minutes, only for the Connacht Academy back to be held up just over the try-line.
Although play resumed with a close range scrum, Australia eventually secured a turnover penalty. Moving into the final quarter, Ireland added Bruce, Ballina’s Dylan Prendergast and Sean O’Brien of Blackrock College to the mix in an effort to turn the tables on their well-drilled opponents.
They remained in contention approaching the hour mark, until the Australians put the outcome beyond doubt with a third try. Lea made significant ground with a lung-bursting run up the wing and put centre Angus Bell over for a neat five-pointer. Pasitoa impressively added the extras as Australia Schools & U-18s took the spoils on the all-weather pitch.
Referee: Jack Lewars (England)