Under-20 RBS 6 Nations
Ireland U-20 14 England U-20 19
The Ireland Under-20s lost for the first time in this year's Six Nations as they were edged out 19-14 by a powerful England side at Donnybrook.
The visitors grabbed second half tries through backs Piers O'Conor and Joe Marchant, as they erased Ireland's 9-6 interval lead.
Three penalties from Ross Byrne had Nigel Carolan's youngsters in front and a Stephen Fitzgerald try cancelled out O'Conor's effort. But England decisively hit back with a James Mitchell penalty and Marchant's fifth try of the tournament.
Nigel Carolan's youngsters had their chances, particularly in a free-flowing first half, and will be disappointed not to have converted them as the English now join them at the top of the Championship table with two wins from three.
England scrum half Mitchell missed his opening shot at the posts, dragging a penalty to the left and wide, while Byrne did likewise as the tricky wind pulled his kick away to the left.
The Irish out-half, who produced a man-of-the-match performance against France, almost teed up an opportunist opening try for Fitzgerald. Byrne took a penalty quickly in the English 22, hanging up a cross-field kick from right to left and the inrushing winger just failed to hold onto it in sight of the try-line.
Having struggled for possession early on, Ireland were beginning to grow into the game and they went ahead in the 12th minute when Byrne fired over a right-sided penalty. A classy defence-splitting break from man-of-the-match Garry Ringrose gave Ireland further momentum, however a poor pass from the supporting Billy Dardis led to Jack Owens knocking on.
Byrne rewarded his side for a sustained period of pressure by slotting a straightforward 21st-minute penalty, before Mitchell quickly replied for the reigning Junior World champions at the other end.
The Irish attack clicked into gear shortly afterwards, with centre Ringrose again at the heart of it. He chased down his own kick near the right corner, instinctly flicking a pass behind his legs to his support. Sam Arnold, excellent prop Jeremy Loughman, Zack McCall and Lorcan Dow all carried up close to the line, but the physical English defence held out.
Nonetheless, the visitors were still leaking penalties and flanker Will Owen saw yellow as he killed the ball following a Dow pick and go. Byrne split the posts from the resulting kick, only for Mitchell to cancel out those three points and with number 8 Dow soon sin-binned, Ireland were fortunate to avoid the concession of a try as full-back Aaron Morris elected to go alone rather than pass outside him.
However, Ireland endured a frustrating start to the second half as Morris' replacement at full-back, O'Conor, beat Owens to a garryowen and with the home defence caught napping he ran 60 metres unopposed to touch down in the left corner.
Mitchell was unable to convert, but Ireland showed good character to answer back some 10 minutes later. A barnstorming initial break from hooker McCall got Carolan's side firing again, Byrne's inviting pass then put Ringrose into space and he cleverly drew in a covering defender to send Fitzgerald clear to score in the right corner.
The home crowd groaned as Byrne's conversion attempt came back off the left upright, leaving Ireland with a 14-11 lead. England used their greater size up front to force the levelling penalty, putting pressure on the Irish scrum and Mitchell did the rest from the kicking tee.
There was further tension after Byrne missed a penalty with 15 minutes remaining and with the English forwards going in influence, the platform was created for Marchant to step into Ringrose's challenge and dot down to the right of the posts.
Mitchell was off target with the conversion, though, and England had to knuckle down in defence as lively replacement forwards Conan O'Donnell and Nick Timoney made some big carries to get Ireland back within sight of the whitewash.
Ringrose earned a penalty for a high tackle on the left, but England defended well from a couple of close-in lineouts and a crucial knock-on gave them a relieving scrum and there was no way back for the hosts.
Giving his reaction afterwards, Ireland U-20 head coach Carolan said: "We certainly had enough chances in the game. Firstly it was a bruising encounter. I thought we had to match up physically and we struggled at times.
"England got a foothold in the game through their one-on-one physical encounters. They didn't do anything that was particularly fancy. We just didn't deal with it particularly well.
"We were indisciplined in defensive rucks and gave England some good field position out of it. They were quite clinical. Every time they go into our half they seemed to get a return from it.
"Whereas every time we got into a scoring position in their half we left 50% of them behind us. It's what it came down to it at the end the day."
He added: "These guys are learning. They are learning about the game. We discussed it. We had a good game-plan. We knew we had to negate the physical dominance of what England had. They had plan 'A' which was pretty much route one and we struggled to deal with it at times.
"I can't fault our ambition. Through our ambition we created some real opportunities. The learning is involved there. It's how do you close out that, how do you take your chances and that comes with experience. There is a composure involved, accuracy, patience and we will certainly learn from it."
IRELAND U-20: Billy Dardis (UCD/Leinster); Jack Owens (Queen's University Belfast/Ulster), Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster), Sam Arnold (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Stephen Fitzgerald (Shannon/Munster); Ross Byrne (UCD/Leinster), Nick McCarthy (UCD/Leinster) (capt); Jeremy Loughman (UCD/Leinster), Zack McCall (Queen's University Belfast/Ulster), Oisin Heffernan (Terenure College/Leinster), David O'Connor (St. Mary's College/Leinster), Alex Thompson (Queen's University Belfast/Ulster), Josh Murphy (UCD/Leinster), Rory Moloney (Buccaneers/Connacht), Lorcan Dow (Queen's University Belfast/Ulster).
Replacements used: Conan O'Donnell (Sligo/NUIG/Connacht) for Heffernan, Cian Romaine (Buccaneers/Connacht) for O'Connor (both 50 mins), Harrison Brewer (Terenure College/Leinster) for Arnold (56), Nick Timoney (St. Mary's College/Leinster) for Moloney (61), Jack Cullen (Shannon/Munster) for McCarthy, Michael Lagan (Ballymena/Ulster) for Loughman (both 67). Not used: Adam McBurney (Ballymena/Ulster), Joey Carbery (UCD/Leinster).
ENGLAND U-20: Aaron Morris (Saracens); George Perkins (Saracens), Joe Marchant (Harlequins), Nick Tompkins (Saracens), Howard Packman (Northampton Saints); Oliver Bryant (Leicester Tigers), James Mitchell (Sale Sharks); Ellis Genge (Bristol), Jack Walker (Yorkshire Carnegie), Ciaran Parker (Sale Sharks), Kieran Treadwell (Harlequins), Charlie Ewels (Bath) (capt), Joe Batley (Gloucester), Will Owen (Leicester Tigers), James Chisholm (Harlequins).
Replacements used: Piers O'Conor (Wasps) for Morris (half-time), Paul Hill (Yorkshire Carnegie) for Parker, Charlie Beckett (Leicester Tigers) for Batley (both 51 mins), Will Homer (Bath) for Bryant (59), Jack Innard (Exeter Chiefs) for Walker (67), Seb Adeniran-Olule (Harlequins) for Genge (69), Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs) for Owen (73). Not used: Tom Howe (Wasps).
Referee: Thomas Charabas (France)
Scorers: Ireland U-20: Try: Stephen Fitzgerald; Pens: Ross Byrne 3
England U-20: Tries: Piers O'Conor, Joe Marchant; Pen: James Mitchell 3
HT: Ireland U-20 9 England U-20 6