February 28, 2009
ENGLAND'S Under 20s were given a lesson in the need to finish off the chances they are creating after being edged out 19-18 by Ireland in Athlone.
Josh Ovens, Will Hurrell and George Lowe all touched down as England won the try-count 3-1 but Ireland's tenacity is the key to their outstanding record at Dubarry Park, where they have been beaten just once in four seasons.
They stayed in touch until the end and drove Ian Madigan into drop goal range with the Blackrock fly half drilling over the winner with the last kick of the game.
To retain their RBS Under-20 6 Nations title, England now have to beat France and Wales in their final two home games at Worcester and need Ireland to lose away from home against Scotland or Wales.
Coach Mark Mapletoft has used 33 players in the first three games of the campaign and hopes they will learn to turn their dominance into points on the scoreboard.
"That was our third game and they've been pretty much identical," said the former England fly half.
"We've attacked sides with the ball in hand, at a high tempo, played our offload game and we haven't been able to capitalise on it.
"In the first two games (against Italy and Wales) we scored seven tries from 57 linebreaks so we're clearly not finishing off opportunities and last night we tried to go one step too far again against a very disciplined, gritty Irish team.
"So in all that makes it somewhere in the region of 80 linebreaks in total for 10 tries in three games, which is a pretty poor ratio of converting our chances.
"But maybe that is something that the change of personnel hasn't helped. This was our third midfield, our third pair of centres, and if you look at last season we were pretty consistent with Alex Goode (Saracens), Jordan Turner-Hall (Harlequins) and Luke Eves (Bristol) together for the first three games.
"Great credit to Ireland. They tackled their hearts out, showed great composure to stay in the game and executed really well at the end to win. But I felt we ought to have been 20-points clear at half-time and that would have been game over."
Mapletoft saluted some good individual performances. Lock Peter Elder (Wasps) and prop Shaun Knight (Gloucester) helped dominate the set-pieces and Harlequins centre Lowe scored a try on his first appearance in an England shirt having missed out at Under 16 and Under 18 levels.
"You learn from experiences in life and I hope this group and those players coming back learn that they can't be so profligate in future," added Mapletoft.
"Games are won on the scoreboard, not on the way we play. Subjectively, you could say that we showed a lot of pace and power and looked dangerous but that doesn't show on the scoreboard. Ireland were well-organised, gritty and took their chance to win the game."
'Patience' was the word used by captain Calum Clark and fly half Rory Clegg as they assessed the way the side needs to develop on the road to this summer's IRB Junior World Championship, where England are the No.2 seeds behind New Zealand.
"It was hugely frustrating from my point of view because we dominated the game and had the chances to win it," said Clark. "It was all about patience and about the need to go back to basics.
"At certain periods we didn't keep the ball and we let the game get a bit scrappy which suited them more than it suited us. The quality of their kicker, too, made it difficult. They had a great kicking game, scrapped for every 50-50 ball and showed how you can hang on in there to win a game."
Clegg was disappointed with missing three conversions from the touchline and one long-range penalty but controlled the game remarkably well after enduring a sick and sleepless night with a stomach bug.
"Overall the execution of everything we did just didn't quite work and they lived off our mistakes," he said.
"They didn't offer a great deal and they didn't win the game, to be honest, we lost it. But their discipline was awesome. They tackled all day long. We made plenty of linebreaks but they just managed to get back and defend.
"We've just got to keep hold of the ball. We were able to rip them apart off the first couple of phases but we were just impatient - it's all about keeping the ball."