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Ireland go so close to halting England's Grand Slam quest

Ireland 10 England 14

By Cian Tracey

Ireland U-20s' attempts to spoil the English party fell agonisingly short as the visitors just about held on to a victory that sealed the Grand Slam.

As was the case against Wales last weekend, Ireland will feel that this was a game they should have won, particularly after dominating the second half.

It was another steep learning curve for Nigel Carolan's youngsters but it was one that again produced several positives.

Jordan Larmour was outstanding, Caelan Doris put in another stellar performance that had the packed crowd in Donnybrook scratching their heads at how good this 18-year-old is, while Fineen Wycherley carried relentlessly all evening.

All of this was done under the watchful gaze of Ireland senior coach Joe Schmidt who will have been impressed by what he saw.

A lapse in concentration late in the first half cost Ireland, however, and for all of the positives that there were to take, Henry Walker's decisive try won't make for pleasant viewing in the review session. It was a killer blow after Bill Johnston had hauled Ireland back into the game.

England were first to strike after 17 minutes. Ireland were caught out at the front of the lineout as Jack Nay collected the ball unopposed before barrelling his way over.

There were question marks over whether the ball was thrown the required five metres but if Ireland felt aggrieved by that decision, worse was to follow later in the half after Max Malins landed the conversion to put England into a 7-0 lead.

The hosts were halted by England's repeated indiscipline - the worst of which saw Doris tripped by Tom Curry when he was powering his way towards the whitewash. Bizarrely, the French referee didn't show Curry a yellow card for an outrageous piece of cynical play.

Ireland couldn't find a way through and had to settle for a 39th-minute Johnston penalty.

Then Walker ran through a gaping hole in the defence and under the posts. Malins' easy conversion gave England a 14-3 lead at the break that they scarcely deserved.

A Ciaran Frawley break sparked Ireland into life again. The rolling maul was a weapon all evening and as the latest one trundled its way over the line, it looked for all the world that a try had been scored but again the call didn't go in Ireland's favour as the ref adjudged that the ball was held up.

But with 15 minutes left on the clock, Ireland weren't to be denied when Gavin Coombes burrowed his way over.

Johnston's conversion left Ireland trailing by just four points but crucially all of the momentum was with them as their superior fitness began to tell.

Ireland got a final chance as the clocked ticked past the 80 and they powered their way through a long series of phases and over the line only for the referee to again rule that the ball was held up.

It was a cruel way to finish a campaign that has had plenty of positives but the focus now turns to the Junior World Cup in June.

Belfast Telegraph

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