Sport Rugby

Sunday 21 January 2018

Ruddock proud of Irish spirit in battling defeat

England 33, Ireland 25

John Fallon, in Treviso

There was heartbreak for Ireland last night as they were pipped in the closing stages of a thrilling U-20 Junior World Championship opener.

Ireland twice came from difficult positions to hit the front for the first time with just five minutes remaining, but the Six Nations Grand Slam winners recovered to snatch victory.

Mike Ruddock's men trailed 13-0 after less than a quarter of the game and soon after they hit back to reduce the margin to 18-16, shortly after the restart, England struck for another try to go 23-16 in front.

Ireland, dominating throughout the field, responded magnificently and two penalties from replacement out-half James McKinney reduced the margin before he edged Ireland in front with five minutes to go.

But, crucially, Ireland failed to retain possession and England struck, with George Ford edging them back in front.

And there was worse to follow in the final play of the match when England got their fourth try to secure a bonus point and in the process rob Ireland of a losing bonus point.

Ireland were 7-0 behind in less than two minutes, with England working the ball from a scrum in the left corner across the field for winger Andy Short to dive over. Ford landed the touchline conversion and with Ireland coughing up possession in a mistake-ridden opening, Ford landed a brace of penalties to put England 13-0 in front at the end of the first quarter.

But Ireland regrouped and with Luke Marshall superb in the centre and Jordi Murphy, Dominic Gallagher and Eoin McKeon mopping up in the back-row, Ruddock's men got back into the game.

Paddy Jackson, having been off target with his first two penalties, found his range after 29 minutes before Andrew Conway broke for a bizarre but superbly executed try when an attempted clearance blasted off the back of the head of England skipper Alex Gray and fell kindly for the Leinster winger, who dashed from his '22' to touch down under the posts, with Jackson adding the extras to make it 13-10 after 38 minutes.

However, Ireland undid a lot of that good work when they lost their own line-out five metres from their line and England recycled for Henry Thomas to get their second try.

Jackson pulled back a penalty before the break and then landed another three minutes after it but, once again, undermined their efforts when England tighthead Mako Vunipola burst through for their third try after 61 minutes to go 23-16 in front.

Once again Ireland refused to die with full-back Craig Gilroy, replacements JJ Hanrahan and McKinney leading the charge as they clawed their way back before hitting the front in the dying moments only to be denied by that late England rally.

Ruddock said afterwards he was proud of the Irish effort and that they would now turn their attentions to South Africa on Tuesday.

"It was disappointing to lose but I was very proud of the players -- they were fantastic," he said.

"And don't forget this is a team that put 40 points on Ireland in the Six Nations. We took them right down to the wire, so we are not too far away at all. It is massive progression from my team and I am very proud of them."

England -- B Ransom; A Short, E Daly, R Mills, J Joseph; G Ford, C Cook; M Vunipola, M Haywood, H Thomas; J Launchbury, C Matthews; M Kvesic, M Everard, A Gray. Reps: O Farrell for Mills (42); M Yarde for Joseph (52); S Jones for Everard (55); S Jones for Cook (61).

Ireland -- C Gilroy (Dungannon); A Conway (Blackrock), B Macken (Blackrock), L Marshall (Ballymena), A Boyle (UCD); P Jackson (Dungannon), K Marmion (University of Wales Institute Cardiff); J Tracy (UCD), N Annett (Belfast Harlequins), T Furlong (Clontarf); M Kearney (Clontarf), I Henderson (Queens University); J Murphy (Lansdowne), D Gallagher (Dublin University), E McKeon (Galwegians). Reps: JJ Hanrahan (UL Bohemians) for Marshall (59); J McKinney (Queens University) for Jackson (59); D Qualter (Buccaneers) for Kearney (62); S Buckley (Garryowen) for McKeon (74); D Doyle (UCD) for Annett (71); C Carey (Ballymena) for Furlong (72); P Du Toit (UCD) for Marmion (75).

Irish Independent

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