England Under 20s 42 Ireland Under-20s 15
The Ireland Under-20s' first ever IRB Junior World Championship semi-final ended in defeat last night as defending champions England proved a class apart in Auckland.
The English are well used to reaching the last-four at this level and it showed as they raced into a 34-3 lead by the 33rd minute thanks to tries from Harry Sloan, Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi, Howard Packman and Tom Woolstencroft.
Their power up front and accuracy in the backs saw them dictate play at QBE Stadium with Ross Byrne registering Ireland's lone first half score from the kicking tee.
Ireland captain Jack O'Donoghue had to go off before the break, the injury toll - Mike Ruddock lost his two previous skippers (Dan Leavy and Sean O'Brien) in recent months - proving particularly unforgiving.
Ireland have a high number of Under-19s on board, including half-backs Byrne and Nick McCarthy, and they at least have Friday's 3rd/4th place play-off to aim for before returning home.
Indeed, Ruddock's side can take some momentum into that game. They were much improved after the break, outscoring England 12-8 during the closing 40 minutes with tries from centre Garry Ringrose and winger Alex Wootton.
Ringrose, one of the U-19 players, scored from a brilliant Byrne grubber kick and Wootton finished smartly in the left corner with 12 minutes remaining.
England had gained the upper hand in the initial set pieces, flanker Gus Jones stealing the first lineout and then the Irish scrum was sent backwards for a penalty which Billy Burns booted over in the fourth minute.
Stephen Gardiner did well to cover a kick from dangerous winger Packman, but the early pressure told as England controlled possession and centre Sloan dummied and dived over to the right of the posts.
The try was converted by Burns and Ireland were forced on the defensive again after losing a second lineout, England moving the ball at pace and with impressive precision.
A Rory Burke penalty was punished by three more points from Burns, before Ireland finally got a chance to counter with Frankie Taggart making good yardage initially and Cian Kelleher breaking on the right.
Ciaran Gaffney caught the English off guard with a quickly taken penalty that almost led to a try, the winger's run up towards the line galvanising his side and Byrne landed the ensuing penalty for 13-3.
But the Irish defence splintered soon after as commanding scrum half Henry Taylor tapped a penalty, Paul Hill gained crucial momentum and fellow prop Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi - the eventual man-of-the-match - proved unstoppable from a few metres out. Burns added the extras for a 17-point margin.
Try number three followed in the 27th minute, Nathan Earle scrambling his way through two tackles before Burns' cross-field kick found Packman on the opposite wing and he evaded Gaffney's grasp on the way to the line.
Gaffney then had to concede a five-metre lineout following a well-judged kick from prop Hobbs-Awoyemi and England's maul did the rest, setting up hooker Woolstencroft for a converted effort to the left of the posts.
Ireland's own attempts to get over the whitewash were thwarted from a close-in lineout and scrum as a groggy-looking O'Donoghue had to be replaced in the 38th minute by Rory Moloney, with Taggart shifting to number 8.
There were positive signs for Ireland though as the back-three of Kelleher, Gaffney and Wootton ran hard at the English defence and Taggart always looked capable of beating the first man.
Ireland enjoyed an encouraging start to the second period with replacements Oisin Heffernan and Harrison Brewer making an impact in the scrum and open play respectively.
They scored their opening try, 10 minutes in, when Byrne's well-weighted kick was dotted down by Ringrose behind the posts. Byrne converted for a 37-10 scoreline - the seven-pointer coming in response to a Packman drop goal.
England's dominance of the forward exchanges continued though, as a powerful lineout maul saw Jones driven over in the 54th minute.
Ireland kept probing for openings off an increased share of possession and full-back Kelleher was unfortunately called back for a forward pass from Ringrose as space opened up on the right.
Ireland's all-round improvements were rewarded with a second try in the 68th minute. Good distribution across the back-line, following a Heffernan-inspired set of carries, saw Brewer draw in two defenders before passing for Wootton to step inside Packman's tackle and score.
Byrne's replacement Conor McKeon was unable to convert but showed some nice touches at out-half as Ruddock's youngsters profited from a better balanced scrum and superior results at the breakdown, with Taggart key to the latter.
As they qualified for their third JWC final in four years, England ended the game in Ireland's 22 and frustration got the better of Kelleher as he was yellow carded in injury-time for a tip tackle.
Tournament hosts New Zealand will be Ireland's opponents in the 3rd/4th place play-off at Eden Park on Friday (kick-off 5.05pm local time/6.05am Irish time). The Baby Blacks lost 32-25 to South Africa in today's other semi-final.
Speaking after the England game, head coach Mike Ruddock said: "We spoke before the game about having to put on a world class defensive performance to compete with England - and whilst I am very proud of the boys, we simply could not match them.
"That is a very good, complete England team. Their experience is immense. I was very proud with how we dug in and kept battling, that was the plus point."
ENGLAND U-20: Aaron Morris (Bedford Blues); Howard Packman (Northampton Saints), Nick Tompkins (Saracens), Harry Sloan (Harlequins), Nathan Earle (Saracens); Billy Burns (Gloucester), Henry Taylor (Loughborough University); Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi (Northampton Saints), Tom Woolstencroft (Bath), Paul Hill (Leeds Carnegie), Maro Itoje (Saracens) (capt), Charlie Ewels (Bath), Ross Moriarty (Gloucester), Gus Jones (London Wasps), James Chisholm (Harlequins).
Replacements used: Callum Braley (Bristol) for Taylor (47 mins), Alex Lundberg (London Wasps) for Hobbs-Awoyemi, Jack Walker (Leeds Carnegie) for Woolstencroft (both 51), Joel Conlon (Exeter Chiefs) for Moriarty, Henry Purdy (Leicester Tigers) for Tompkins, Harry Rudkin (Leicester Tigers) for Hill (all 66), Sam Olver (Northampton Saints) for Burns (67), Hayden Thompson-Stringer (Saracens) for Itoje (77).
IRELAND U-20: Cian Kelleher (Lansdowne/Leinster); Ciaran Gaffney (Galwegians/Connacht), Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster), Dan Goggin (Young Munster/Munster), Alex Wootton (Garryowen/Munster); Ross Byrne (UCD/Leinster), Nick McCarthy (UCD/Leinster); Peter Dooley (Lansdowne/Leinster), Max Abbott (Cork Constitution/Munster), Rory Burke (Cork Constitution/Munster), Stephen Gardiner (Lansdowne/Leinster), Ross Molony (UCD/Leinster), Peadar Timmins (UCD/Leinster), Frankie Taggart (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Jack O'Donoghue (UL Bohemians/Munster) (capt).
Replacements used: Rory Moloney (Buccaneers/Connacht) for O'Donoghue (38 mins), Harrison Brewer (Terenure College/Leinster) for Goggin, Oisin Heffernan (Lansdowne/Leinster) for Burke, Dylan Donnellan (UCD/Leinster) for Abbott (all half-time), Ryan Foley (Cork Constitution/Munster) for McCarthy, Conor McKeon (Lansdowne/Leinster) for Byrne (both 61), Denis Coulson (Lansdowne/Leinster) for Dooley (67), Darragh Moloney (Cork Constitution/Munster) for Gardiner (77).
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia).
England: Tries: Harry Sloan, Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi, Howard Packman, Tom Woolstencroft, Gus Jones; Cons: Billy Burns 4; Pens: Billy Burns 2; Drop: Howard Packman
Ireland: Tries: Garry Ringrose, Alex Wootton; Con: Ross Byrne; Pen: Ross Byrne