England Counties U18 fall to Ireland

  • England Counties U18 bettered by Ireland
  • Lost to same side on Wednesday 29-17 

A strong final quarter performance paid dividends for Ireland U18 Clubs at Ashbourne RFC on Saturday, as England Counties U18 were beaten 24-13.

Ireland had registered a 29-17 win at the same venue on Wednesday, and despite developing a 13-7 cushion in the second Test with tries from John Kenward and Alexander Burrage, England Counties couldn't hold on as Kieran Dunne, Colin Sisk and Cian Huxford all crossed over in a storming finish by the home side.

With both teams making a total of nine changes to their starting line-ups, it did take a while for the game to settle.

Yet, after full-back Aaron O’Sullivan was forced into touch in the 13th minute, the hosts found themselves on the back-foot for an extended spell. Under pressure from a Burrage pass, England inside centre Samuel Stott knocked forward with the try-line in sight, but the Counties selection subsequently broke the deadlock just two minutes later.

Burrage opted for the right-flank from a close-range penalty, and following neat interplay between Dominic Groom and Benjamin Atkins, hooker John Kenward dotted down in clinical fashion. This was a major confidence boost for England, and although Burrage was off-target from a tricky conversion attempt, the visitors continued to dominate possession moving into the second-quarter.

Burrage had another opportunity from the kicking tee on 21 minutes, and from a distance of 40 metres, he made no mistake. Ireland were struggling to curb the momentum of their opponents, but after fly-half Bruce Houston once again opted for a line-out on the half-hour mark, Ireland worked their way back into contention.

With Sean Molony leading their charge, Ireland developed a maul inside the England 22, and via a neat pass by scrum-half Caolan Englefield, Dunne broke over to the left of the posts. This five pointer from the Sale Sharks star was supplemented by a routine Houston bonus kick, reducing Ireland’s deficit.

A powerful counter-attack - involving O’Sullivan, Oran McNulty and Conor Kelly - almost yielded a second try before the interval, but prop Ashley Deane was squeezed out after receiving an off-load from Kelly.

This meant England brought a slender 8-7 advantage into the second-half, and with five players from their bench introduced by the 37th-minute, Ireland were aiming to build on their positive ending to the opening period.

Strong start, close finish

England added Jake Clemson and Cameron McDonald to the action after the restart, and they extended their lead on the stroke of 45 minutes. It appeared that their chance had gone when Ireland halted their march for the whitewash on the left-flank, but once the ball was transferred into a more central position, Burrage touched down with relative ease.

The Bishop Heber School out-half was unfortunate to see his third kick of the day rebounding off the post and away to safety, and this ensured that Ireland remained within touching distance of their cross-channel rivals.

They had to survive a massive push by England at the end of the third-quarter, but Ireland did ultimately secure their second try of the contest on 60 minutes. Another impressive line-out maul offered Ireland a foothold in England's half, and after spotting a gap close to the line, replacement scrum-half Sisk dived over in confident style.

Houston was wide of the mark with his second kicking effort of the game, and even though the Ballymena Academy man had a chance to move his side into the ascendancy four minutes from the end of normal time, he once more kicked to touch on the left-wing.

This proved to be an astute call, as Dunne displayed great composure to break over for his second try. This edged Ireland in front for the very first time, and in addition to a two-pointer by Houston, flanker Cian Huxford completed the scoring in the closing stages with a neat finish on the left-hand side.