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Plenty Of Positives For Ireland U-18s Following Five Nations Opener
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Plenty Of Positives For Ireland U-18s Following Five Nations Opener

Plenty Of Positives For Ireland U-18s Following Five Nations Opener

The Ireland Under-18s’ first outing of the season saw them go close to defeating a highly-rated England side in the opening game of the U-18 Five Nations Festival in Bristol.

The Ireland U-18s matched their hosts on try count with the excellent Ronan Kelleher and Daniel Hurley cancelling out efforts from Gabriel Ibitoye and Tom Parton, but a second half penalty from James Grayson proved to be the winning score (15-12).

Playing together for the first time, Ireland grew into what was an absorbing contest and had some dominant spells against an English team that had already lined out against France, Scotland and Wales recently.

In drizzly conditions at SGS College, the visitors – coached by Noel McNamara and Alex Codling – fielded a mixture of club and schools players with a number of talented Exiles also donning the green jersey.

Ireland fell behind to a third minute try from England centre Ibitoye, who profited from numbers on the left as he surged clear to score under the posts. Out-half Grayson converted for 7-0.

Irish half-backs Jonathon Stewart and Conor Dean both showed well early on, the former breaking up the left wing to launch a kick chase and number 10 Dean making a half-break from a scrum.

The greasy ball proved problematic for both sides, but Ireland's defence got to grips with the English runners as the likes of Tom O'Toole and captain Caelan Doris landed big tackles.

A second scrum penalty gave James Hume a sight of goal on the quarter hour mark, but the RBAI representative missed the monster kick just to the right. His centre partner James Newey broke up a dangerous English attack soon after, forcing a turnover after bringing Jacob Umaga down in the 22.

Ireland soaked up further pressure in defence before ending the first half on a real high, with influential hooker Kelleher getting them on the scoreboard.

Newey got over a ruck ball to win another long range penalty which Hume was unfortunately short with, however a weaving run and pass from number 8 Doris kept Ireland on the front foot.

They held onto that momentum with Newey's superb flick pass releasing Hume for a dart up the left wing, while winger Hurley also caught the eye on an incisive run through midfield.

Doris then threatened out wide from a Dean cross-field kick before a neatly-worked lineout move at the front saw Kelleher get over in the left corner. Hume's cracking conversion brought Ireland level with the last kick of the half.

Although a fine touchfinder from Dean saw Ireland begin the second period in promising fashion, a couple of penalties invited England forward and Grayson punished a maul infringement for 10-7, five minutes in.

Grayson, the son of former England senior out-half Paul Grayson, pushed a place-kick from halfway to the right and wide shortly afterwards.

It was then Ireland's chance to lift the tempo, a tremendous carry from Kelleher off a wayward English lineout seeing the St. Michael's College student make a full 25 metres, deep into the hosts' half.

England were fortunate to avoid leaking a second try when lock Charlie Ryan was held up from a powerful Irish maul, however McNamara's charges maintained the momentum and got their just reward.

After the ball squirted out of a five-metre scrum, Stewart's outstanding pass out the back door set up Hurley for a smart finish by the corner flag. The difficult conversion from the left touchline fell wide at 12-10.

Ireland's lead was shortlived, though, as a quick turnover launched England forward and a favourable bounce from an Ibitoye kick saw full-back Parton score an unconverted effort in the right corner.

Entering the final quarter of an hour, there were turnovers aplenty at both ends of the pitch but territory was largely with the more experienced England team.

Hurley almost hit back with his second try of the afternoon, Hume kicking to touch to set up a close-in lineout, but the Crescent College winger was tackled just short following a typically pacey run.

England were pinged for hands in the ruck near their whitewash and number 8 Ben Earl was promptly sin-binned. His team-mates knuckled down to thwart Ireland's advances late on, with a kick downfield lifting the pressure at the end of a very tight encounter.

Despite this opening defeat, Ireland will draw confidence from what was a strong first outing as a collective. The set piece provided a solid platform, the defence offered up very little space and the green shirts gradually found their attacking groove, with some crisp handling and well-timed runs.

The Ireland U-18s' second Five Nations Festival clash will see them take on Scotland in Caerphilly next Tuesday (kick-off 2pm), before wrapping up the tournament against Italy at the same Welsh venue – the CCB Centre of Sporting Excellence – on Saturday week (11am).

Lineups Scorers

Match Lineups

Home Team

Tom Parton (Wellington College/London Irish); Levi Davis (Denstone College/Leicester Tigers), Gabriel Ibitoye (Trinity/Harlequins), Jacob Umaga (Wyggeston & QEI College/Leicester Tigers), Sam Yawayawa (Wyggeston & QEI College/Leicester Tigers); James Grayson (Moulton College/Northampton Saints), Ben White (Leicester Grammar School/Leicester Tigers); Alex Seville (Hartpury College/Gloucester), Henry Walker (Bromsgrove School/Gloucester), Joseph Morris (King Edward VI Aston/Worcester Warriors), Josh Williams (Hartlepool 6th Form College/Newcastle Falcons), Nick Isiekwe (Haileybury College/Saracens), Ben Curry (Oundle School/Sale Sharks), Tom Curry (Oundle School/Sale Sharks), Ben Earl (Tonbridge School/Saracens).

Replacements: Alex Rayment (Royal Hospital School/Northampton), Jarod Leat (St. Paul's Catholic College/London Irish), Ehren Painter (Felsted/Northampton Saints), Dino Lamb-Cona (Cranleigh/Harlequins), Sam Lewis (Denstone College), Rory Brand (Wellington College/London Irish), Reuben Bird-Tulloch (Harrow/Saracens), Ben Loader (Wellington College/London Irish).

Away Team

Hugh O'Sullivan (Belvedere College/Leinster); Conor Wharton (Oaklands College/Exiles), James Hume (RBAI/Ulster), James Newey (Christ College Brecon/Exiles), Daniel Hurley (Crescent CC/Munster); Conor Dean (Blackrock College/Leinster), Jonathon Stewart (Wallace High School/Ulster); Callum Reid (RBAI/Ulster), Ronan Kelleher (St. Michael's College/Leinster), Tom O'Toole (Campbell College/Ulster), Matthew Dalton (Belfast Royal Academy/Ulster), Charlie Ryan (Blackrock College/Leinster), Ronan Coffey (Ard Scoil Ris/Munster), Richard Dunne (Blackrock College/Leinster), Caelan Doris (Blackrock College/Leinster) (capt).

Replacements used: Sean Masterson (Portlaoise RFC) for Dunne, Liam Turner (Blackrock College/Leinster) for Wharton (both 25 mins), Tommy O'Brien (Blackrock College/Leinster) for Hume (55), David Hawkshaw (Belvedere College/Leinster) for Dean (58), Eoghan Clarke (CBC Monkstown/Leinster) for Reid (60), Tadgh McCarthy (Bantry Bay RFC/Munster) for Kelleher (65). Not used: Alexander Clarke (Ballymena Academy/Ulster), Michael Milne (Cistercian College Roscrea/Munster), John McCusker (Rainey Old Boys/Ulster), David Robb (Galwegians/Connacht), Ollie Brown (Harpenden RFC/Exiles).

Match Scorers

Home Team

Tries: Gabriel Ibitoye, Tom Parton; Con: James Grayson; Pen: James Grayson

Away Team

Tries: Ronan Kelleher, Daniel Hurley; Con: James Hume