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England U20 lose out to last kick in Athlone

27 February 2009

February 27, 2009

Ireland U20 19 England U20 18

England were made to pay for failing to take their chances as they joined the legions of other superior sides to have thoroughly tripped themselves up at Dubarry Park.

They scored three tries to one and utterly dominated the match only to leave Ireland with a chink of light five minutes from time which saw a succession of drives down the middle concluded by a 45-metre drop goal from Blackrock fly half Ian Madigan that ended the game.

But that's what happens in the murky Midland town of Athlone, where the bash-and-boot Ireland age-group sides have been beaten just once in four years. UCD centre Ian McKinley hoofed three fine penalties and converted an interception try from Clontarf wing Michael Keating.

Harlequins centre George Lowe's try 10 minutes from time appeared to have won it for England with Bath flanker Josh Ovens and Leicester Tigers wing Will Hurrell also touching down and Newcastle Falcons fly half Rory Clegg adding a penalty.

This game brought together the two unbeaten sides in the RBS Under-20 Six Nations, with England having despatched Italy (17-0) and Wales (26-18) in the opening rounds.

They kicked off having made half-a-dozen changes to the side that won in Wales, with Lowe making his debut and first starts for Tom Casson (Saracens), Shaun Knight (Gloucester) and Peter Elder (Wasps).

The lack of continuity didn't hurt England, though, as they bossed the opening quarter, ruled the lineout and put together a sequence of promising attacks that broke down through handling errors and some durable Irish defence.

It took them until the 22nd minute to open the scoring, though, all the pretty patterns put to one side in favour of something more functional. Clegg's long kick forced Ireland to throw in under pressure close to there own line with the ball neatly picked off and Bath flanker Ovens driving over.

That lead was shortlived. Ireland had taken 15 minutes to set foot in the England half and ventured into the 22 only once before the interval, but despite their rudimentary game-plan they were in front by the break.

UCD centre McKinley kicked penalties in the 25th and 39th minutes to nudge his side 6-5 ahead and, with Clegg missing to the right from long-range, suddenly every lineout won, tackle made and high kick launched had the locals raising the rafters.

McKinley missed with a third effort in the opening seconds of the second half and England's response was a sensational sweeping, off-loading attack that saw Hurrell, Greig Tonks and Lowe all combine up the left.

They set up the position for Clegg to regain the lead with a penalty from 10 metres in front of the posts, only to lose their way equally abruptly.

First, Chris York was sin-binned defending a ruck 50m away from his own line. Then, despite still dominating the game, his 14-man team coughed up an interception try from inside the Irish half.

Clontarf wing Keating eluded the last defender to reach the corner and McKinley - naturally - converted from the touchline. Just for good measure England were in front of the kicker at the restart, then conceded a penalty at the scrum that followed which McKinley nailed for a 16-8 lead going into the final quarter.

England responded with some authority at last, the ball zipped away from a midfield scrum for Hurrell to streak in down the left and despite Clegg being unable to convert they were back within three points with time on their side.

Ireland lost a man of their own after that, Mark Flanagan sent to the sin-bin for halting another dangerous attack and England's response was a muscular run down the right from Stegmann who fought his way through two tackles and offloaded for Lowe to cap a fine debut with a try.

Clegg's conversion miss left England with two minutes on the clock and a bucketload of injury time to come.

They promptly, fatally, stopped playing and by the time they had switched back on again it was too late. They kept their discipline at the rucks but Madigan, too deep in the pocket for a chargedown to stop, kept calmest of all to win the game.

England U20: Greig Tonks (Leicester Tigers); Seb Stegmann (Harlequins), George Lowe (Harlequins), Tom Casson (Saracens), Will Hurrell (Leicester Tigers; James Short (Saracens 70); Rory Clegg (Newcastle Falcons), Dan White (Leeds Carnegie; Sam Harrison, Leicester Tigers 60); Ben Moon (Exeter Chiefs), Jamie George (Saracens), Shaun Knight (Gloucester Rugby; Bob Baker, London Wasps 55), James Gaskell (Sale Sharks), Peter Elder (London Wasps; Carl Fearns, Sale Sharks 59), Josh Ovens (Bath Rugby), Calum Clark (Leeds Carnegie, captain), Chris York (Harlequins).

Replacements: Arthur Ellis (London Wasps), Tom Sargeant (Harlequins), Freddie Burns (Gloucester Rugby)

Scorers: Tries - Ovens, Hurrell, Lowe. Penalty - Clegg.

Ireland U20: Dave Kearney (Lansdowne); Ronan O'Mahony (Garryowen), Ian McKinley (UCD), Eamonn Sheridan (Lansdowne), Michael Keating (Clontarf); Ian Madigan (Blackrock), Mathew Healy (Lansdowne); Paddy McAllister (Ballinahinch), Tom Sexton (Old Belvedere), Jack McGrath (St Mary's College; Jack O'Connell, Lansdowne 55), Ciaran Ruddock (Neath), James Sandford (Queen's University; Mark Flanagan, UCD 70), Rhys Ruddock (Millfield School), Dominic Ryan (Lansdowne), Peter O'Mahony (Cork Constitution, captain; Michael Noone, Seapoint 63)

Replacements: Davy McGregor (Ballinahinch), Conor Murray (Garryowen), Shane Gahan (Lansdowne), Gary Foley (Blackrock College).

Scorers: Try: Keating. Conversion: McKinley. Penalties: McKinley 3. Drop goal: Madigan.

Yellow card: Flanagan 74

Referee: James Jones (WRU).