BATTLING IRELAND capped a courageous performance when a late, late converted try earned them a nail-biting 16-15 victory over champions England in a hard-fought ‘ELECTRIC IRELAND’ U-20 Six Nations Championship encounter at Dubarry Park on Friday night. The midlands venue was bursting at the seams with a record attendance of near 4,000 who roared their favourites on to a thrilling victory in a match that marked the official launch of Athlone’s  year as a European Town of Sport.


Despite the recent sustained spell of inclement weather, conditions although soft underfoot were nigh on perfect for this hugely-anticipated clash. Ireland made a number of changes from the side that narrowly lost away to Wales and they produced a more cohesive display against bigger opponents who are seeking a third successive title. Buccaneers starlet Robbie Henshaw made his first U-20 start at fullback while Rory Scannell proved an adroit stand-off in the backline where David Panter started on the right wing. Peter Dooley operated at loosehead prop and the Birr lad really anchored the home front row in a pack where Ulster duo Conor Joyce and Gavin Thornbury also caught the eye.

Ireland had a nervous opening quarter after Henry Slade kicked the visitors ahead with a 2nd minute penalty after the hosts failed to release. Thornbury was forced to spend some time in the treatment bay following an injury and Thomas Daly’s 16th minute penalty (after England had come in from the side) curled wide. Ten minutes later, however, the sides were level and England down a player, flanker Ross Moriarty incurring a red card from referee Nigel Hennessy following a spear-like tackle on Luke McGrath. A lengthy stoppage while the influential scrumhalf received treatment did not disconcert Daly who drilled over the resultant penalty to level the scores.

However, this setback seemed to merely get the champions’ dander up and they added two Slade placekicks on 32 and 37 minutes to lead 9-3 at the interval, both penalties being soft concessions by Ireland.  Ireland restarted brightly and the sniping of No.8 Joyce and Rory Scholes tempted England offside with Daly thumping over a 43rd minute penalty. But with Slade, one of five Exeter Chiefs players in the England starting XV, pulling the strings effectively, the champions stretched their advantage to 15-6 with penalties on 50 and 55 minutes, the latter after centre Daly went off his feet at a ruck to incur a yellow card, although the visitors escaped with a crossing in the build up to the latter score.

Four minutes later, Ireland looked in dire straits as the lively Henshaw was harshly shown a yellow card after he collided in mid air with his oppositie number Ben Howard as they challenged for a garryowen that was lofted by the Ireland fullback. Thornbury then got in a great blockdown on an attempted England clearance and the visitors went unpunished when their player seemed to simply lie on the ball and deny the harrying Irish possession. However, Scholes landed a fine 64th minute penalty from the right shortly afterwards and it was 13-aside moments later when Elliott Stooke was sin-binned for bringing down a maul by a resurgent Ireland.

With impressive duo Daly and Henshaw returning to the fray, Ireland now upped the ante and they maintained their late momentum despite ‘ELECTRIC IRELAND Man of the Match’ Daly being off-target with a 72nd minute penalty.  They made their extra numbers pay when, after the forwards had made good ground down the right, play was moved smartly crossfield to Daly who linked up with Henshaw and the Buccs teenager made further inroads before his off-load sent Scholes scurrying in for a 76th minute try on the left. Daly calmly slotted over the tricky, pressure conversion to put Ireland ahead by the minimum and they then displayed further composed and disciplined endeavour to play out time and secure a vital victory that keeps their championship hopes very much alive and follows Ireland’s Junior World Cup success over the ‘old enemy’ last summer.

Ireland play again in Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Friday, March 8th when France are visitors.


IRELAND:- Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Connacht); David Panter (Corinthians/Connacht), Tom Daly (Lansdowne/Leinster), Mark Roche (Lansdowne/Connacht), Rory Scholes (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster); Rory Scannell (Dolphin/Munster), Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster) (captain); Peter Dooley (Lansdowne/Leinster), George McGuigan (Newcastle Falcons/Exiles), Chris Taylor (Malone/Ulster); Gavin Thornbury (UCD/Leinster), John Donnan (Ballynahinch/Ulster); Peadar Timmins (UCD/Leinster), Ryan Murphy (Dolphin/Munster) and Conor Joyce (Malone/Ulster).  Replacements used: Sean McCarthy (Shannon/Munster) for Thornbury (13-17 mins, blood sub), Ryan Furniss (Worcester Warriors/Exiles) for Taylor (inj. 31 mins), McCarthy for Donnan (inj. 58 mins), Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster) for Timmins (60 mins), Adam Boland (Lansdowne/Connacht) for Furniss (inj. 72 mins), John Andrew (Ballymena/Ulster) for McGuigan (74 mins), Darren Sweetnam (UCC/Munster) for Scannell (74 mins). Not used: John Creighton (Malone/Ulster) and Eogháin Quinn (Lansdowne/Leinster).


ENGLAND:- Ben Howard (Worcester Warriors); Jack Arnott (Exeter Chiefs), Mark Jennings (Sale Sharks), Sam Hill (Exeter Chiefs), Henry Purdy (Leicester Tigers); Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs), Alex Day (Northampton Saints); Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi (Northampton Saints), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), Scott Wilson (Newcastle Falcons); Elliott Stooke (Gloucester), Dom Barrow (Leeds Carnegie); Ross Moriarty (Gloucester), Joel Conlon (Exeter Chiefs) and Jack Clifford (Harlequins) (captain).  Replacements used: Nathan Morris (London Wasps) for Hobbs-Awoyemi (half-time), Nathan Fowles (Sales Sharks) for Day (49 mins), Harry Wells (Leicester Tigers) for Conlon (68 mins), Tom Collins (Northampton Saints) for Purdy (68 mins), Danny Herriott (Northampton Saints) for Wilson (70 mins), Tom Jubb (Saracens) for Stooke (78 mins) and Will Hooley (Northampton Saints) for Slade (78 mins). Not used: Max Crumpton (Saracens).


Referee:-  Nigel Hennessy (Wales).


Mini-Rugby between Ballina RFC and Loughrea RFC