England Saxons 8 Ireland Wolfhounds 14
Ian Madigan’s superior goal-kicking and opportunist try sealed a hard-fought 14-8 win for the Ireland Wolfhounds with England Saxons fly-half Freddie Burns missing five points off the tee at Kingsholm.
Leinster fly-half Madigan wriggled home for Ireland’s second try, after a score for half-back and club partner Isaac Boss.
The 24-year-old scored both his conversion attempts, and that proved crucial with Gloucester counterpart Burns striking posts with first a conversion and then a penalty.
The Saxons fought hard for a fluency that never came, Anthony Watson claiming the hosts’ only try after gratefully scooping up a knock-on from Wolfhounds wing Craig Gilroy.
England produced a late resurgence to try to steal victory, but Elliot Daly was held up short and Burns was squeezed into touch trying to sneak a try.
Those protagonists with one eye on senior RBS 6 Nations action were unable to anything so scintillating as to leave the watching Stuart Lancaster and Joe Schmidt with big decisions to make.
Burns, the Gloucester fly-half bound for Leicester in the summer, could not capitalise on stalking current club territory.
England head coach Lancaster sent Elite Player Squad man Burns into Saxons action to help him regain confidence after a wretched two months deliberating his club future had wrecked his form.
The 23-year-old should still slot back into England’s Six Nations squad, alongside Owen Farrell and George Ford but Lancaster could so easily promote Northampton’s Stephen Myler, whose form has been far more assured this term.
However, it was Madigan’s try and accuracy with the boot that sealed the victory, and he is at least one man likely to be troubling Six Nations team sheets.
The Wolfhounds drew first blood, Leinster scrum-half Boss nipping round a maul the Saxons forgot to defend at the fringes.
England’s second-string had a chance to hit straight back, only for Matt Hopper to fail to find Anthony Watson after the pack had created an overlap.
England punted a kickable penalty to the corner, but failed to get the better of the Irish at the maul, wasting three points in chasing five.
Ireland failed to clear their lines, but captain Rhys Ruddock claimed a fine turnover to dampen
English incision once more.
England worked Daly free to chip into the corner after a solid scrum, forcing another restart from an Ireland knock-on.
Ireland eased away from trouble after Hopper spilled the ball, before hustling Joe Simpson into a hurried clearance.
The visitors could not exploit a line-out in plum field position, and in next to no time were under their own posts, and nonplussed about it.
Felix Jones floated a pass out to Craig Gilroy, the Ulster wing failed to claim, and unwittingly palmed straight off to the lurking Watson.
Bath’s speed man needed no second invitation, and paced clear of the defence to level the try count, with Burns missing the conversion.
Neat breaks from Madigan and Robbie Henshaw set a dangerous platform for Ireland, who then built a solid catch-and-drive from a line-out.
England hauled the set maul down illegally, Madigan sneaked a quick tap-penalty, and delivered Ireland’s second try.
Catching England unawares for the key split-second, the Leinster fly-half wriggled enough space around Dave Ewers and Sam Hill to dot down.
Ireland led 14-5 at the break, and returned with fit-again Leinster hooker Richardt Strauss replacing Ulster’s Rob Herring.
England returned with new intent and squeezed the Wolfhounds into an immediate scrum collapse, but Burns slapped the post with the regulation penalty, hitting woodwork for the second time in the day.
Burns finally slotted a penalty with a little more than a quarter-hour to play; the first points for either side in the half as the Wolfhounds defence held firm.