Mike Ruddock’s side, beaten by England in the Six Nations decider in March, lost another extremely hard-fought game at the Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch. Ireland, giant-killers in their opening-day triumph over the South Africans, now need to beat Italy in the final group game next Tuesday and hope the English beat the Baby Boks to reach the last four.
It was a brave performance from the Irish, who had been 15-3 ahead at half time on a quagmire of a pitch, having dominated possession after going behind to a fifth-minute penalty from Tom Heathcote.
Just as he had done against South Africa, Munster fly-half JJ Hanrahan ran the show, pinning England in their own half with his kicking game and he opened Ireland’s account, though this time not from the boot but with a try.
The move was started with a great run down the right wing by Barry Daly, who beat two tackles and dummied another before the ball was worked to Hanrahan, who powered his way over.
The UL Bohemians out-half converted and Ireland were 7-3 up after 15 minutes.
Ireland were then aided by English ill-discipline as centre Will Addison was sin-binned in the 18th minute for a dangerous tip tackle on Tadhg Beirne. Ruddock’s side piled on the pressure and six minutes later the pressure told on the English again with South African ref Lourens Van Der Merwe penalising and then binning lock George Merrick for not releasing.
With a two-man advantage and eight against seven in the scrum on five metres, Ireland held all the cards but it was a clever use of them that delivered the second try, number eight Jack Conan putting Marmion over on the blindside.
With the rain falling in Stellenbosch, Hanrahan failed to convert from the touchline, although his approach had been impeded by television cables. Regardless, Ireland were 12-3 ahead and still a man up as Addison returned.
Ireland lost flanker Conor Gilsenan in the 28th minute to a serious-looking ankle injury, replaced by Shane Buckley, but the long injury break did not upset Hanrahan, who released Jordan Coghlan to break upfield. Coghlan, a try-scorer against South Africa, powered into the 22 and offloaded to Daly who dove into the corner.
Ireland celebrations were short-lived though, as Daly had put a foot into touch, although they were rewarded for their endeavour when English discipline buckled again and Hanrahan struck the penalty.
In an archetypal game of two halves, England came out strong following the break and dominated from there on in, Heathcote slotting an early penalty and Hanrahan missing a chance to cancel it out.
The pressure, for all Ireland’s defensive commitment, told in the 62nd minute when, with captain Niall Scannell having been warned by the referee about offside infringements at the breakdown, Buckley committed another. Penalty try to England and a yellow card to the replacement.
Buckley’s indiscipline cost seven points as Heathcote converted and the yellow card had further repercussions as the short-handed Irish succumbed to another forward-driven try in the 66th minute. Tighthead prop Kyle Sinckler piled over to put England in front and Heathcote’s conversion pushed the score to 20-15, ended Irish hopes of victory.
IRELAND U20: P Nelson (S Olding 78); B Daly, F Horan, C Farrell, S Coghlan Murray (J Carty 68); JJ Hanrahan, K Marmion (L McGrath 68); D Merrey, N Scannell (capt, J Rael 63), T Furlong; T Beirne, I Henderson; J Coghlan, C Gilsenan (S Buckley, 28, A O’Connor, 73), J Conan.
Replacements not used: P Reilly, J Cawley.
ENGLAND U20: T Bell; M Yarde, W Addison (B Ransom 49), R Mills (capt), Charlie Walker (S Hill h-t); T Heathcote, B Spencer (D Robson 49); A Hepburn (L Cowan-Dickie 53), K Britton (M Crumpton 53), K Sinckler; D Barrow, G Merrick (S Twomey 60); D Sisi (Chris Walker 49), B Nutley, J Clifford.
Replacement not used: R Harrison.
Referee: Lourens Van Der Merwe (South Africa).