Ireland’s U20 Grand Slam dream died at Adams Park in High Wycombe last night after they failed to fully recover from a strong opening by England.
It seemed in the opening quarter that England were going to run riot but Ireland did grow in strength even if they never looked like winning the game.
Yet, Mike Ruddock’s men should have no fears when the sides meet in the pool stages of the Junior World Championship in South Africa in June.
Ireland needed a good start to put the champions on the back foot but they made a disastrous one when England scored after just 40 seconds, full-back Anthony Watson cutting a good line through the middle before brushing through three tackles to touch down.
Out-half Tom Heathcote added the points to complete the perfect start by an England side still smarting from surrendering their Grand Slam hopes in France a week earlier.
England’s greater physicality in their set-piece and the breakdown was clear from the outset and they pressed home this advantage relentlessly. But Ireland finally got into gear and Paddy Jackson lifted the siege with a penalty from 43 metres on the right after 10 minutes.
The reprieve was brief though as England, willing to run at every opportunity, cracked the Irish defence with a training ground move off a lineout on the right, with scrum-half Dan Robson looping around to make the break and dash in from 30 metres.
England continued to pile on the pressure but, crucially, Ireland survived a series of close-range scrums and kept the holders at bay.
It came at a price, though, as centre JJ Hanrahan was binned for killing the ball, with Heathcote’s penalty pushing England 15-3 in front on the half hour.
Ireland traded on parity while minus a man, with Jackson adding a second penalty from outside the 40 metre mark, which left it 15-6 at the interval.
But hopes of an Irish revival were killed off just a minute after the restart. Aaron Conneely did superbly to deny Charlie Walker just short of the line, but he recycled and Marland Yarde, threatening throughout, finished in the left corner.
Heathcote missed the difficult conversion but it was Ireland who hit back after that, and the game could have taken a different complexion had hooker Niall Scanell been able to collect a chip from Hanrahan after 56 minutes.
But Ireland still kept going forward and were rewarded when Jackson landed his third penalty of the night after 62 minutes.
Ruddock will now turn his attention to South Africa where Ireland are in a pool with England, South Africa and Italy.
England scorers: Tries: Watson, Robson, Yarde. Con: Heathcote. Pen: Heathcote
ENGLAND: A Watson (London Irish); M Yarde (London Irish), W Addison (Sale Sharks), R Mills (Gloucester), C Walker (Harlequins); T Heathcote (Bath), D Robson (Gloucester); A Hepburn (Wasps), K Britton (Gloucester), K Sinkler (Harlequins); T Price (Leicester), D Barrow (Leeds Carnergie); M Kvesic (Worcester Warriors), C Walker (Leeds Carnegie), J Clifford (Harlequins).
Replacements: L Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs) for Hepburn, 46; G Merrick (Harlequins) for Barrow, 46; B Spencer (Saracens) for Robson, 60; D Sisi (London Irish) for Walker, 64; N Morris (Wasps) for Britton, 65; R Harrison (Sale Sharks) for Sinkler, 65.
Ireland scorers: Pens: Jackson (3)
IRELAND: S Layden (Buccaneers/Connacht); C Finn (Buccaneers/Connacht), C Farrell (Dungannon/Ulster), JJ Hanrahan (UL Bohemians/Munster), F Horan (Lansdowne/Leinster); P Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster), L McGrath (UCD/Leinster); D Merrey (Clontarf/Leinster), N Scannell (Dolphin/Munster), K McCall (Ballynahinch/Ulster); I Henderson (QUB/Ulster), D Qualter (Buccaneers/Connacht); C Gilsenan (UCD/Leinster), A Conneely (Corinthians/Connacht), J Conan (Old Belvedere/Leinster).
Replacements: S Olding (Belfast Harleuins/Ulster) for Layden, 46; T Beirne (Lansdowne/Leinster) for Qualter, 47; J Coghlan (UCD/Leinster) for Conneely, 60; J Rael (Garyowen/Munster) for Scannell, 65; K Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht) for McGrath, 69; C Marsh (Dublin University/Leinster) for Jackson, 71; P Reilly (Lansdowne/Leinster) for Merrey, 72.
Referee: C Blessano (Italy).
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