- England Students draw 36-36 with Ireland
- England denied win in final moments
England Students rallied to a late lead against the Combined Students of Ireland at Oxford University RFC on Sunday, but were unable to hold on as the teams fought to a 36-36 draw.
England started brightly and an early break from Durham centre Tom McClean set them up nicely, deep in Irish territory. Following two five-metre scrums, Mark Dixon shoved aside an Irish defender and touched down over the line for the game’s first try, with Will Kaye converting to give England a 7-0 lead after 10 minutes.
The Irish responded in the 17th minute with a penalty converted by right wing, Bryan Mollen - a man who would become more familiar to England as the game wore on.
But it was England who got on the score sheet next. Near the try line, McClean sent the ball over to Sunderland flanker, Simon Uzokwe, who cut back to the openside, and dragging Irish defenders with him, bulldozed his way across for a try. Kaye missed the conversion, but England had a healthy 12-3 lead.
Mollen strikes back
That changed quickly as Mollen took over the game, scoring an easy try on the right side, after a quick break from the Irish caught England out of position. Mollen missed the conversion but made up for it with a converted penalty just minutes later to cut England’s lead to one point.
In the 31st minute it was Mollen again, running up the middle for a try. He surprisingly missed an easy conversion, but then kicked another penalty to put Ireland up by seven points.
That's it! #EnglandStudents 36-36 Combined Students of Ireland. Not the result England wanted or expected but what a match to watch.— Students RFU (@StudentsRFU) April 2, 2017
It looked as if Ireland would be heading into the break with the lead, but Loughborough’s Sam Pointon had other plans. The speedy scrum half ran away from the Ireland line, and when confronted with two last defenders, coolly slipped between them and sped under the posts. Kaye converted and the players headed to the dressing rooms with the scores knotted at 19-19.
In the second stanza, the two sides sparred for any opening, and in the 59th minute it was Ireland who finally found the in-goal area, with Nick Peters scoring a converted try.
But then disaster struck for Ireland as their star player Mollen was sin-binned just as England were gaining momentum. With a man advantage, England needed just seconds to score, as Pointon notched his second try. Kaye made the conversion and it was 26 points apiece.
In the 74th minute England nearly scored a try following a five-metre lineout, but the final pass went awry. However England were playing the advantage and came back for a penalty, which Kaye slotted to give England the lead.
Matthew Gilsenan responded with a converted penalty for Ireland, but then a few minutes later, England seemed to have achieved the fairy-tale ending. “We would have liked to win, but we did well to get the draw.”
Oxford’s very own right wing Tom Stileman crashed across the line for a try and Kaye’s conversion made it 36-29 with just minutes remaining.
But Ireland were determined that, having played so well, they would get something from the game, and found another try to once again level the match.
England did their best to push for victory in the final moments, with Loughborough replacement Callum Watson making a terrific run to put them in good position, but Ireland’s defence held firm and the two sides had to be content with shared honours.
James pleased with intent
Although disappointed with the result, head coach Aaron James was still pleased with his team’s performance.
“We would have liked to win, but we did well to get the draw,” James admitted. “We worked pretty hard. We let Ireland get away in the middle period, but we came back well. Quite an exciting game.
“We had confidence in the boys in the way they played, they had intent right through it. We started to get a few injuries, especially to the backs, which was the only concern. But our fitness told.”
England Students will now head to Bristol to continue training in preparation for a mammoth clash with French Universities on Friday, 7 April at the Coombe Dingle Sports Complex.
James added: “We’re just halfway through the campaign. The guys will enjoy socialising with Ireland and their families tonight, and then we’re back into it tomorrow. We move down to Bristol and we’ll train pretty hard, looking at the big challenge of France.”