Rugby Union: England A leave Hill in high spirits

Ireland A 21 England A 28
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The Independent Online
RICHARD HILL may not have been good enough for Gloucester, but certain Cherry and White types still love him to bits. Mark Mapletoft and Chris Catling, two proud men of Kingsholm, gave their sacked coach some welcome cause for celebration by claiming 21 of the 28 points scored by England A at Donnybrook last night and, in the process, kept their countrymen on course for a second-string Grand Slam that seemed out of the question at the end of last season's shambolic campaign.

Whatever Hill's perceived shortcomings at club level, he has clearly been calling all the right shots on the representative scene. Mildly discomfited by a typically vigorous Irish start, Mapletoft and company maintained their cool, steadied the ship and blew their opponents away in a 24-minute purple patch that realised four converted tries. England's back-row interplay was a joy to watch - if Tony Diprose is not the best footballing No 8 in Britain, Guinness is not brewed in Dublin - and with Nick Walshe whipping out a sharp, snappy service, his outside-half partner was able to pull every trick in the repertoire.

Impressive driving by yet another Kingsholm regular, Trevor Woodman, gave Mapletoft and Nick Burrows the opportunity to send Ben Clarke arrowing towards the right corner flag to level the early scoreline at 10-10. From there on in, the first half was all white: Diprose produced a wonderful pass in midfield to open things up for Catling on 17 minutes, Mapletoft completed a textbook chip and gather try just 90 seconds later and as half-time beckoned, he claimed his second try after imaginative counter- attacking by Catling and Spencer Brown.

Twenty-one points to the good, the foot inevitably came off the pedal. Gabriel Fulcher claimed a defiant seven-pointer from a close-range line- out in first-half injury time and when Shane Horgan, a real monster of a centre from the Lansdowne club, ran through and over half of England to complete an unlikely score with almost half an hour still left on the clock, the possibility of a scarcely credible comeback raised its emerald head.

It was not to be. Eddie Halvey and Anthony Foley almost conjured an equalising try as the Irish poured on the heat in the final quarter, but Diprose's unrelenting defensive commitment and Garath Archer's no-nonsense performance in the eye of the Irish storm saw England home in breathless fashion.

Ireland A: Tries Woods, Fulcher, Horgan; Conversions: Mason 3. England A: Tries Mapletoft 2, Clarke, Catling; Conversions: Mapletoft 4.

Ireland A: S Mason (Ballymena); J McWeeney (St Mary's College), M Murphy (Galwegians), S Horgan (Lansdowne), N Woods (London Irish); B Everitt (Lansdowne), T Tierney (Garryowen); J Screen (Buccaneers), A Clarke (Dungannon, capt), A McKeen (Lansdowne), G Fulcher (Lansdowne), G Longwell (Ballymena), T Brennan (St Mary's College), A Foley (Shannon), E Halvey (Shannon). Replacements: P Duignan (Galwegians) for McWeeny, 36; J Hayes (Shannon) for McKeen, 60; G Easterby (London Scottish) for Tierney, 71; D Corkery (Cork Constitution) for Brennan, 71; M Blair (Ballymena) for Longwell, 73.

England A: C Catling (Gloucester); S Hanley (Sale), J Ewens (Bedford), B J Mather (Sale), S Brown (Richmond); M Mapletoft (Gloucester), N Walshe (Harlequins); T Woodman (Gloucester), G Chuter (Saracens), A Deacon (Gloucester), R Fidler (Gloucester), G Archer (Newcastle), B Clarke (Richmond), A Diprose (Saracens, capt), A Vander (Richmond). Replacements: N Burrows (London Irish) for Hanley, 5; N Hatley (London Irish) for Woodman, h-t; M Cornwell (Gloucester) for Fidler, 60; R Kirke (London Irish) for Chuter, 66; G Seeley (Northampton) for Clarke, 69.

Referee: N Williams (Wales).