- England Counties lose opening game in Ireland
- Match ended 29-17 despite second-half resurgence
A spirited second-half display from England Counties U18s was not enough to beat Ireland Clubs U18 as they fell 29-17 at Ashbourne RFC in Dublin.
Playing in sunny conditions at the Co Meath venue, Ireland were looking to make inroads against their cross-channel counterparts during the early exchanges.
They secured possession inside the English half initially, but following a strong carry by Lancashire centre Samuel Stott, the visitors forced their opponents on the back-foot. Mark Butler’s hosts held firm under pressure on this occasion, but the direct running style of England ensured that they were always on their toes without the ball.
However, it was Ireland who eventually broke the deadlock on 14 minutes, and fly-half Bruce Houston was instrumental in the opening score.
The Ballymena man combined with inside centre, Luke Fitzgerald, and after receiving a neat pass from the latter, full-back Aaron O’Sullivan - who plays his rugby in England with Wasps and Henley College - raced over for a try on the left-flank.
Houston was off-target from the resulting conversion, but despite coming under additional pressure from the English pack, Ireland extended their lead in the second-quarter. Flanker Marc Flemming forcing his way into English territory with a strong break, and his subsequent off-load left Aaron Sexton with the simple task of crossing over for a second unconverted try.
England were finding it difficult to contain the well-drilled Ireland attack, and although Stott and full-back Joseph Lane carried effectively at times, a third try arrived for Ireland just before the interval.
This helped Ireland to create a commanding 17-0 cushion at the midway point, but when the action resumed, England quickly worked their way back into contention. Wade Williams and Frederik Barnes were introduced into the front-row, and after the play was spread wide from an attacking scrum, Matthew Law provided the final pass for Thomas Wane’s powerful finish over the whitewash.
Law was off-target from his first effort off the kicking tee, but now the lead had been eaten in to, England were priming themselves for a massive second-half performance.
Ireland soon regained momentum however, when a cross-field kick was gathered by winger Hugh Lane, which allowed O’Sullivan to break over in the corner for his second try.
This left England with a mountain to climb, but from the restart climb it they did, as a fast-paced move was completed over the line by replacement Jack Granby.
Play was open in the fixture's closing stages, and Oran McNulty squeezed through for another five-pointer on the right-hand side.
But a determined England completed the afternoon’s proceedings on a positive note, with a sweeping score in the left-corner by Southam College’s Joseph Tresadern at the end of normal time. A finish that will whet the appetite for their second encounter at Ashbourne RFC in three days’ time.
England Counties U18 team
15. Joseph Lane (Warwickshire) King Henry VIII School, 14. Thomas Wane (Sussex) Eastbourne College, 13. Cameron McDonald (Hampshire) Farnborough College of Technology, 12. Samuel Stott (c) (Lancashire) Lancaster Royal Grammar School, 11. Joseph Tresadern (Warwickshire) Southam College, 10. Matthew Law (Lincolnshire) Kings Grammar School Grantham, 9. Samuel Pocklington (Yorkshire) Queen Ethelburga’s, 8. Edward Brown (Yorkshire) Queen Ethelburga’s, 7. Cameron Terry (Gloucestershire) Celtenham College, 6. Oliver Bee (Leicestershire) Wyggeston & Queen Elizabeth I, 5. Dominic Groom (Leicestershire) English Martyrs Catholic School, 4. Jake Clemson (Cornwall) Truro & Penwith College, 3. Harry Butler (Yorkshire) Queen Ethelburga’s, 2. Connor Johnson (Lancashire) Myerscough College, 1. William Roberts (Leicestershire) Lutterworth RFC.
Replacements: 16. John Kenward (Leicestershire) Princethorpe College, 17. Wade Williams (Lancashire) Sedbergh School, 18. Frederick Barnes (Oxfordshire) Cokethorpe School, 19. Jack Granby (Lancashire) Runshaw College, 20. Benjamin Atkins (Berkshire) St Pauls Catholic College, 21. Alexander Skinner (Surrey) Reigate Grammar School, 22. Alexander Burrage (Cheshire) Bishop Heber High, 23. Henry Pearson (Lancashire) Kirkham Grammar School.