A late converted try from Myles Carey helped the Leinster Development team edged out an Ireland Under-20 XV on a 30-26 scoreline in an entertaining U-20 Six Nations warm-up clash at Donnybrook.
With 10 players from the Leinster club scene featuring in the Ireland Under-20 starting line-up this afternoon, there was a distinct local flavour to this pre-Christmas contest.
The announcement that Munster and Ireland legend Paul O’Connell has joined the Ireland U-20 set-up as an assistant coach raised anticipation for this fixture, but it was also the first outing for Noel McNamara as the Under-20s' new head coach.
The Clare native is also in charge of the Leinster 'A' team that is currently undefeated in this season’s British & Irish Cup after four rounds, and it was one of his provincial players who broke the deadlock in the seventh minute.
Conor Dean made a late appearance against Bristol at the same venue six days ago, and the St. Mary's College out-half split the posts from just outside the Leinster 22 to open the Ireland U-20s' account. The international side enjoyed the majority of the possession during the early stages and were eager to add to their lead.
Dean duly doubled their advantage with a successful place-kick from 35 metres out. The Leinster Development side grew into the game, however, and got on the board through Clontarf's Con Kelly on 25 minutes. He made no mistake with a close range penalty goal.
From a subsequent attack, his audacious cross-field kick was superbly gathered in the air by IQ Rugby winger Aaron O'Sullivan who touched down for the game's opening try. Kelly's conversion attempt was off target, and this meant that Dean was able to edge Ireland back ahead (9-8) with another clinical strike from the tee.
Yet, Leinster were beginning to create serious attacking momentum, and O'Sullivan ran in an unconverted breakaway try to complete his brace, three minutes before the interval. There was still enough time for Ireland to hit back with five-pointer of their own. They were getting plenty of joy on the left flank, and at the end of an extended move inside the Leinster half, UCC flanker Jack O'Sullivan dotted down beyond the whitewash.
Dean's touchline conversion was marginally wide of the target, but as the half-time whistle sounded, the Ireland U-20s had a 14-13 advantage. This set things up perfectly for the second half where both sides were keen to explore the options on their respective replacement benches.
It was Leinster who got the ball rolling after a charged down clearance ended with lock Oisin Dowling driving over the line beneath a host of bodies. Kelly added the extras in convincing fashion, but as they did for Leinster's previous try, Ireland issued an immediate response.
Sharp line speed brought them into Leinster's half of the field, and after they moved the ball crisply towards the right wing, the lively Tommy O'Brien put Peter Sullivan through for a simple finish in the corner. A wayward conversion by Dean ensured that Leinster remained in front, though, and a magnificent Kelly penalty from long range helped to extend the Blues' lead to 23-19 in the 55th minute.
Heading into the final quarter, Ireland were still being frustrated by strong defence from Leinster – though a few knock-ons from their opponents lifted some of the pressure off their shoulders. They continued to persevere and following a long clearance, O'Brien set up replacement scrum half Hugh O'Sullivan for an eye-catching third try for Ireland.
UCD's Harry Byrne, brother of Leinster star Ross, tagged on the conversion and it looked like Ireland might be able to push on from this point. Leinster centre Sean O'Brien was beginning to grow in stature, however, and at the end of a powerful break on 69 minutes, he offloaded for his midfield partner Carey to notch the province's fourth try.
This put the Blues back in the driving seat, and with goal-kicker Kelly converting to increase his personal haul to 10 minutes, they held out for a four-point win.
Referee: Sean Gallagher (IRFU)