It was a game of two halves from the Ireland Under-19s’ perspective as they lost out to the touring Australia Schools team at Ravenhill on Saturday.
The Australians took the spoils on a 14-8 scoreline, getting the better of a committed Ireland Under-19 side in very difficult weather conditions.
The visitors won the toss and opted to play with the wind behind them in the first half. The early exchanges were very physical as both sets of forwards looked to assert authority over the other.
Australia gained the early advantage when awarded a penalty for an Irish infringement at the breakdown. Out-half Andrew Deegan duly split the posts for a 3-0 lead.
The Ireland Under-19s responded positively and shortly after going behind, Deegan's opposite number Ross Byrne converted a difficult penalty kick to bring his side level.
For the remainder of the first half, the honours were evenly shared in terms of field position. Both teams had chances to score but accuracy in the tough conditions was costing them with promising attacks thwarted by a number of dropped passes.
The respective back rows, with Jack McCalman and Lolo Faka’osilea putting in a good display for the Australians, matched by the performances of Josh Murphy, captain Rory Moloney and Lorcan Dow for the Irish, won crucial turnover ball at times.
However, both defences were well organised and negated a number of scoring opportunities for the opposition.
The Australian scrum began to be punished by French referee Tual Trainini with a series of infringements and Ireland, in turn, placed the visitors under serious pressure.
The hosts – coached by Colin McEntee, Nigel Carolan and Conor Twomey – gained good field position following an Australian scrum offence and, in the 30th minute, they scored a try in the corner after impressive control and patience was demonstrated by the pack.
Number 8 Dow got the touch down but the difficult conversion kick was unsuccessful. However, the Ireland U-19s, playing against the elements, now had an 8-3 lead.
In the final seconds of the first half, Australia had a great opportunity to add points after some impressive patterns of play. Unfortunately, a knock on, just short of the try-line, brought the attack to an end.
But the second period could not have started better for the Australians with an Irish mistake from the kick-off. The Australian intensity lifted and they began to play controlled, multi-phase rugby to place the home defence under pressure.
Following a short, but effective, spell of attacking play, emerging from the Irish error, Australian scrum half James Tuttle spotted an opening down the short side of a ruck.
He took his chance and touched down for Australia's lone try after gliding through a hesitant Irish defence. The conversion was unsuccessful but the visitors' confidence was building with the scoreboard now showing 8-8.
Both sides were handling the tough conditions well with Ireland kicking accurately through their half-backs Jack Cullen and Ross Byrne, and Australia returning the ball with great effectiveness.
The penalty count against the Ireland U-19s, who had displayed great discipline in the first half, was starting to even up as they tried everything at the breakdown to unsettle the Australian momentum.
Unfortunately, they were now getting on the wrong side of the referee on quite a few occasions. An Irish yellow card added to their frustration as the Australian runners hammered away at the Irish defence.
Australian number 10 Deegan added a further penalty goal in the 50th minute, which ensured they regained the lead at 11-8.
From the restart, McEntee's charges raised their performance levels and played their best rugby of the second half. However, the Australian defence was up for the fight and, eventually, an Irish error allowed the visitors to gain possession and mount a series of attacks.
Ball control was crucial running into the wind and the Australian players demonstrated great discipline for the remainder of the match.
Towards the end, both teams made frequent substitutions with the difficult conditions taking its toll on players who had given their all.
The Australian bench lifted their team as each player who came on made a real impression to ensure a positive final outcome.
The Irish gave away another penalty in the 59th minute and the posts were well within the kicking range of Deegan. His kick was successful and Australia dominated possession in the closing stages to run out deserving 14-8 winners.
Referee: Tual Trainini (France)