Mighty Irish effort foiled by late try blitz

ALL known logic was almost defied as the Ireland Schools came within eight minutes of trumping all-powerful England in an adrenaline-fuelled FIRA U18 European Championship qualifier at Donnybrook yesterday.

Ireland had the temerity to snatch the lead in the 56th minute when outstanding flanker Daniel Leavy fed loose-head prop Edward Byrne for a superb try, converted by wing Mark Roche for a 12-10 lead.

The Irish had been badly hampered by poor preparation — the players only met on Monday — against an England outfit powered by players conditioned by their Aviva Premiership clubs for the last two years and already boosted by a summer tour and multiple camps.

The disparity in size and power was stunning as England wing Anthony Watson popped up to take Sam Hill’s pass to the line in the 15th minute. Fly-half Will Hooley converted.

Irish flanker Dan Leavy offered the greatest resistance with some ferocious hits, and he almost sparked a try for Jack O’Neill, only for referee Cedric Marchat to call play back for a knock-on.

Wing Mark Roche was then short from a 20th minute penalty, but Ireland’s dander was up and captain Luke McGrath — Ireland’s only second-season player at this level — slipped over unnoticed on the blindside to reduce the gap to 7-5 in the 22nd minute.

Roche made a superb cover tackle to deny Alex Day and Hooley was wide with a penalty as England came storming back, while Irish out-half Steve Crosbie pulled a drop-goal attempt wide at the other end.

Hooley did manage to clip over a penalty to make it 10-5 in the 37th minute, while both Crosbie and Roche were off-target with penalty efforts for the hosts after the break.

But Ireland refused to be distracted by their inability to kick penalties. Eventually, Crosbie went for a lineout, the ball was transferred to Edward Byrne and he crashed over. Roche’s conversion put Ireland 12-10 ahead in the 56th minute.

However, a botched clearance gave English full-back Jack Nowell an opportunity to counter, and he made it all the way to the line before the Irish defence could react, with replacement Henry Slade’s conversion making it 17-12 with eight minutes to go.

Ireland made a flurry of substitutions, including the introduction of PBC Cork’s Rory Scannell, whose brother Niall had been in action for the Irish U19/U20 Development side earlier in the day.

But England smelled blood and crossed twice more, through replacement scrum-half James Lightfoot-Brown and centre Mark Jennings.

Scorers for Ireland: L McGrath, E Byrne try each; M Roche con.

Scorers for England: A Watson, J Lightfoot-Brown, J Nowell, M Jennings try each; W Hooley con, pen; H Slade 2 cons.

IRELAND: J Fitzpatrick (Gonzaga College); R Scholes (Campbell College), S Glynn (PBC Cork), C Farrell (Campbell College), M Roche (Blackrock College); S Crosbie (St Gerard’s), L McGrath (St Michael’s College, capt); E Byrne (Clongowes Wood), A Murphy (St Michael’s College), A Boland (Blackrock College); J Sexton (St Mary’s College), S McCarthy (Rockwell College); D Leavy (St Michael’s College); J O’Neill (Castleknock College); R Murphy (PBC Cork).

Replacements: B Scott (PBC Cork) for Murphy (22 mins, temp), C McEllin (Blackrock College) for Fitzpatrick (38), T Ferrari (Sligo Grammar School) for Boland, C Taylor (Wallace High School) for Byrne (both 58), G Thornbury (Blackrock College) for Sexton, J Creighton (Campbell College) for Crosbie (both 67), R Scannell (PBC Cork) for Scholes, B Scott (PBC Cork) for Murphy, S Hooks (Royal School Armagh) for McCarthy (all 68).

ENGLAND: J Nowell; J Arnott, M Jennings, S Hill, A Watson; W Hooley, A Day; L Cowan-Dickie, N Morris, D Herriott, D Barrow (capt), T Jubb, J Clifford, M Hankin , D Sisi.

Replacements: T Smallbone for Herriott (h/t), J Lightfoot-Brown for Hooley, H Slade for Day, M Crumpton for Morris (all 47), M Tamiau for Hill (58), G Jones for Hankin (60).

Referee: Cedric Marchat (France)

Picture: TRY TIME: Ireland’s Edward Byrne shows his delight after crossing the England try-line during the FIRA U18 European Championship qualifier at Donnybrook yesterday. Picture: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

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