Ireland Under-21. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15
THERE is an identity crisis in under-21 rugby, what with O'Leary and Ryan scoring tries for England and Paul Burke, who represented England at this level against Ireland last season, now playing for Ireland against England, writes Steve Bale.
In the case of Burke, Ireland's gain - and therefore England's loss - is significant. But for their stand- off, the Irish would have been thrashed in yesterday's curtain- raiser at Gateshead International Stadium, or at least they would have been if England had not made such a meal of the match.
Perhaps indigestion would be a better description. John Phillips and Simon Shaw practically monopolised the line-out, to such a degree that Ireland won only one possession there in the second half, but the stream of English ball was constantly bogged down before its delivery to the backs or else unable to flow beyond a cluttered midfield.
Thus, although England scored four tries it should have been many more, and every time they threatened to pull away there was Burke to pull it back with his four penalties and one drop goal. Apart from these scores and a late flurry the best thing Ireland had to offer was their intransigent defence, though with seven under-20s in their side this was praiseworthy in itself.
The first breach in it was made by the left wing Daren O'Leary, materialising on the right to exploit a smart break by Diccon Edwards. James Naylor was the creator for Neil Ryan's first try, and in the second half Ryan scored again after assistance from Olsen, Diprose, Naylor and Stimpson. Finally, Chris Johnson laid back the ball when tackled at the line and the supporting Anthony Handley scored.
In its way perhaps it was a triumph, since England lost the first two games at this level - at Moseley in 1990 and Donnybrook in 1991 - and last year were relieved to win 39-28 down the road at the Newcastle Gosforth ground after being 30 points ahead.
That was when Burke was playing for England - and scoring 10 points. England have evidently not forgotten and probably not forgiven either; dare one suggest that the ex- English Irish outside-half was singled out for special treatment at Gateshead yesterday?
England Under-21: Tries Ryan 2, O'Leary, Handley; Conversion Stimpson. Ireland Under-21: Penalties Burke 4; Drop goal Burke.
ENGLAND UNDER-21: T Stimpson (Durham University); J Naylor (Orrell), A Handley (Waterloo), D Edwards (Wakefield), D O'Leary (Harlequins); N Ryan (Otley), M Olsen (Bath); S Brown (Harlequins), C Johnson (Leicester), D Crompton (Bath, capt), J Phillips (Northampton), S Shaw (Bristol), A Diprose, R Hill (Saracens), L Dallaglio (Wasps).
IRELAND UNDER-21: J Bell (Loughborough University); I Grey (Queen's University, Belfast), R Hunter (London Irish), A Reddan (Old Crescent), G Davis (Sale); P Burke (London Irish), N Assaf (Blackrock College); W O'Kelly (Clontarf), N Mullins (Bective Rangers, capt), J Hickey (Shannon), J Davidson (Dungannon), B Cusack (Bective Rangers), M Dobson (Sale), A Foley (Shannon), L Toland (Old Crescent). Replacements: D Scott (NIFC) for Hickey, 56; O Cobbe (London Irish) for Burke, 80.
Referee: J Bacigalupo (Scotland).