There was reason to celebrate a little more than just the unveiling of a magnificent new club premises for Cork Constitution; Ireland, despite yielding a fair bit on the physical stakes, produced a top quality performance to secure another win over the auld enemy.
They did have to fight for everything as England upped the tempo in a second half when the Irish clubs lost both half-backs for 10 minutes apiece to yellow cards, but the fight in Ireland was always evident, they survived considerable trauma and then hit back with an injury-time try to prove their worth.
Ireland may have struggled a little in the opening minutes but they struck for the opening score when Stuart Morrow brilliantly anticipated a wayward midfield pass to intercept and run 70 metres for a try that Craig Ronaldson converted.
It came after Rory Teague had missed a rather straightforward penalty chance — but the England out-half made up for that when he kicked a 16th-minute penalty to reduce the arrears to four points.
Ronaldson, however, stepped up to kick two more penalties to put his team back in the driving seat at 13-3.
England responded with a try from winger Nev Edwards who was sent through following a magnificent break by Jack Adams. Ben Reilly had Ireland back in the driving seat with a try and Ronaldson’s conversion pushed out the lead to 20-8.
Ronaldson helped his side into an even stronger advantage with a penalty 10 minutes into the second half but England struck back brilliantly when Ireland were down to 14 men — Gerry Hurley having been sin-binned. Matt Heek grabbed a 51st-minute try that Teague converted and then substitute Will Hurrell grabbed another to drag his side back to within three points, 20-23.
England’s Teague missed a golden opportunity to level matters but Ireland had to sweat further when Ronaldson was sin-binned for a high tackle on substitute Lewis Barker.
The verdict looked harsh and it forced Ireland to pull out all the stops in defence. They did so brilliantly and fought a rearguard action until Ronaldson was allowed to return just before the finish.
That arrival was perfectly timed, allowing the out-half to convert a last-gasp try from Ireland hooker Ger Slattery to ensure the Irish clubs continued their home winning run over their English opponents.
IRELAND CLUBS: R Mullane (Shannon), T McCoy (Clontarf), K Lett (Clontarf), S Morrow (Ballynahinch), D Fanning (St Mary’s College), C Ronaldson (Lansdowne), G Hurley (Cork Constitution, capt), C McMahon (St Mary’s College), G Slattery (Young Munster), K Griffin (Shannon), E Kelly (UL Bohemian), B Reilly (Clontarf), W Ryan (UCD), F Cogan (Clontarf), D Kenny (UCD).
Replacements: J Thompson (Ballynahinch) for McCoy (injured, 34) N Melbourne (Young Munster) for Kelly, G Moore (Malone) for Kenny (both 61), P O’Regan (Old Belvedere) for Griffin (70), S Cronin (Clontarf) for Hurley, B Keeshan (Dolphin) for Ronaldson, R Byrne (UCD) for Slattery (all 80).
ENGLAND COUNTIES: P Hodgkinson (Ealing), O Marchon (Old Albanian), J Adams (Cinderford), S Barrow (Fylde), N Edwards (Rosslyn Park), R Teague (Blackheath, capt), M Heeks (Rosslyn Park), T Fidler (Cambridge), M Hall (Blaydon), M George (Stourbridge), W Warden (Richmond), J Inglis (Esher), S Shires (Ealing), D Allen (Blackheath), J Burton (Loughborough).
Replacements: B West (Cinderford) for Shires (39, injured), R Kalbraier (Blaydon) for Fidler, B Johnson (Old Albanian) for Burton (both 46), W Hurrell (Stourbridge) for Marchon (54), D Dickinson (Tynedale) for George, L Barker (Coventry) for Heeks (both 67), C Elder (Esher) for Barrow (71, inj)
Referee: C Marchat (France).