Ireland Wolfhounds 9 England Saxons 18
Ireland Wolfhounds: Pens: Ian Madigan 3
Tries: Henry Slade, Christian Wade; Con: Henry Slade; Pens: Henry Slade 2
The Ireland Wolfhounds had a night to forget as they were beaten 18-9 by England Saxons in a forgettable encounter at Musgrave Park.
The injury returns of Sean O'Brien, Keith Earls and Iain Henderson were the only real highlights for a Wolfhounds side that produced a disjointed display despite being packed full of Test caps.
The hosts' only points came from the reliable boot of Ian Madigan who would have wanted to show more in attack in his attempts to press for a start against Italy in next week's RBS 6 Nations opener.
Madigan's opposite number Henry Slade scored all of the Saxons points during a stop-start first half in Cork, adding two penalties to his well-taken 23rd minute try as they led 11-3 at the break.
The Wolfhounds were thwarted by a sturdy, well-structured English defence, who held the edge at the breakdown, and Madigan's 35th-minute penalty proved to be their lone score.
Two further successes from the Dubliner made it a two-point game, but the hosts failed to threaten the Saxons try-line and a powerful set of closing phases paved the way for a clinching seven-pointer from replacement Christian Wade late on.
A stomach bug forced Luke Fitzgerald out of the Wolfhounds team before kick-off, his starting place going to Craig Gilroy with Munster's Andrew Conway joining the bench.
Dominic Ryan laid down an early marker with a strong tackle on Sam Burgess, before the Wolfhounds' first attack of note saw Earls spin away from a couple of Saxons in midfield.
The hosts lost decent field position with a crooked lineout and forward pass and although the Saxons coughed up a series of ruck penalties, none of them were within range of the posts.
Conway, who came on for the injured Fergus McFadden, had to scramble back to assist Madigan following a Marland Yarde-led breakout, but the Irish defence lapsed in allowing the Saxons to seize control entering the second quarter.
Jon Callards men used their scrum platform to launch forward into the Irish 22, with offloads from Thomas Waldrom and Matt Kvesic seeing them move the ball wide to the right where Elliot Daly lurked and from the resulting ruck, Lee Dickson fed his half-back partner Slade for a simple run-in.
Slade, who missed the difficult conversion, soon drove over a long range penalty as the Saxons took an 8-0 lead despite being forced to defend for long spells.
More errors crept into the Wolfhounds' game as they tried to respond inside the English 22, O'Brien losing control of the ball in contact and loose passing forcing Gilroy into touch on the left.
Kvesic was pinged for obstructing O'Brien as Chris Ashton broke out of his 22 and Madigan slotted the resulting kick to get the Wolfhounds off the mark.
However, the Saxons had two further scoring opportunities before the half-time whistle, Daly trying his luck from distance before Slade, from closer in, punished an O'Brien infringement to reopen the eight-point gap.
Robbie Diack replaced Mike McCarthy (head injury) for the second period and the Wolfhounds had a let-off when Daly, breaking through midfield, took the wrong decision when electing to kick for Yarde rather than pass to the supporting winger.
Thankfully for the home crowd, the Wolfhounds did gain some momentum in the third quarter. Madigan fired over a 50th minute place-kick after the Saxons were guilty of sealing off, and his crisp strike from the left punished a scrum offence for 11-9.
A couple of crooked lineout throws saw possession turned off at both ends of the pitch. Worryingly for the Irish, the Saxons looked increasingly potent with ball in hand and Daly, weaving into space on an angled run, was a pass away from linking up with Ashton.
A Diack lineout steal lifted the pressure on the Wolfhounds who were able to take off the likes of O'Brien, Mike Ross and Jack McGrath with bigger tests ahead in the coming weeks.
The replacements did provide some welcome spark, most notably Isaac Boss and Eoin McKeon, and the former's half-back inspired a promising multi-phase attack that ended in yet another frustrating turnover.
Joe Simpson and Ashton launched a length-of-the-pitch counter and those hard-earned yards were lost by the home side.
Indeed, the Saxons finished the game on the front foot and following some strong carries from Maro Itoje and Carl Fearns, the ball was flashed wide for Wade to get by Gilroy and Slade's conversion put the seal on a workmanlike win.
23 minutes – England Saxons try: Henry Slade – 0-5; conversion: missed by Henry Slade – 0-5; 26 mins – England Saxons penalty: Henry Slade – 0-8; 35 mins – Ireland Wolfhounds penalty: Ian Madigan – 3-8; 38 mins – England Saxons penalty: missed by Elliot Daly – 3-8; 40+1 mins – England Saxons penalty: Henry Slade – 3-11; Half-time – Ireland Wolfhounds 3 England Saxons 11; 50 mins – Ireland Wolfhounds penalty: Ian Madigan – 6-11; 58 mins – Ireland Wolfhounds penalty: Ian Madigan – 9-11; 80 mins – England Saxons try: Christian Wade – 9-16; conversion: Henry Slade – 9-18; Full-time – Ireland Wolfhounds 9 England Saxons 18
Felix Jones (Shannon/Munster) (capt); Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster), Gordon D'Arcy (Lansdowne/Leinster), Craig Gilroy (Dungannon/Ulster); Ian Madigan (Blackrock College/Leinster), Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht); Jack McGrath (St. Mary's College/Leinster), Richardt Strauss (Old Wesley/Leinster), Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Mike McCarthy (Leinster), Dominic Ryan (Lansdowne/Leinster), Sean O'Brien (UCD/Leinster), Jack Conan (Old Belvedere/Leinster).
Andrew Conway (Blackrock College/Munster) for McFadden (13 mins), Robbie Diack (Malone/Ulster) for McCarthy (half-time), Rob Herring (Ballynahinch/Ulster) for Strauss, Eoin McKeon (Corinthians/Connacht) for O'Brien (both 51), Nathan White (Gawegians/Connacht) for Ross (53), Isaac Boss (Terenure College/Leinster) for Marmion (55), Michael Bent (Leinster) for McGrath (59), Noel Reid (Clontarf/Leinster) for Gilroy (73-76, temp sub).
Chris Pennell (Worcester Warriors); Chris Ashton (Saracens), Elliot Daly (Wasps), Sam Burgess (Bath), Marland Yarde (Harlequins); Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs), Lee Dickson (Northampton Saints) (capt); Matt Mullan (Wasps), Rob Webber (Bath), Henry Thomas (Bath), Matt Garvey (Bath), James Gaskell (Wasps), Dave Ewers (Exeter Chiefs), Matt Kvesic (Gloucester), Thomas Waldrom (Exeter Chiefs).
Maro Itoje (Saracens) for Gaskell (16 mins), Christian Wade (Wasps) for Yarde, Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs) for Webber, Alex Waller (Northampton Saints) for Mullan (all 50), Joe Simpson (Wasps) for Dickson (61), Carl Fearns (Bath) for Garvey, Jake Cooper-Woolley (Wasps) for Thomas (both 73).
Neil Hennessy (Wales)