Rugby Union: Irish overwhelmed

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The Independent Online
England Under-21. .39

Ireland Under-21. .28

IRISH EXPECTATIONS that a solitary success in major matches against England last season, when their Under-21 side prevailed in Dublin, could be repeated at Newcastle under the Kingston Park floodlights last night, were undermined by an exuberant England team who outscored their visitors by six tries to three.

Further proof of declining standards in Irish rugby were highlighted by marked differences in organisation, handling ability and finishing power between two sides who were fully committed to moving the ball whenever possible.

It was not long before chances were being created by the powerful English backs. The quick-thinking Mapletoft tapped a short penalty to feed Mark Rennell, who crashed through for a simple try.

Within minutes the porous Irish rearguard was exposed once more as outside-half Paul Burke, Edwards and Matthew Dawson combined swiftly to send O'Leary over.

Alan McGowan scored two penalties, but England's very next attack brought the visitors even more pain, especially for Innes Gray. The full-back compounded one poor clearance after another to allow England to exploit his uncertainty. England moved the ball to the right and from Edwards's delicate chip, Mapletoft got the better of the chase with Graeme McCluskey for the third try.

The Irish took on more water with O'Leary's second try and at 22-6 the prospect of a third successive win in this series of matches looked unpromising. A close-range try for Liam Toland in first-half injury-time, and McGowan's third penalty soon afterwards, momentarily lifted Irish spirits. But a brilliant individual try by Jon Sleightholme and another by Burke put the issue beyond doubt, although Ireland staged something of a last-minute recovery with a Paul Wallace try and, as England transgressed in injury time, a penalty try was awarded. Both were converted by McGowan to give the score a flattering look from Ireland's point of view.

England: Tries O'Leary 2, Rennell, Mapletoft, Sleightholme, Burke; Conversions Mapletoft 2, Burke; Penalty Burke. Ireland: Tries Toland, Wallace, penalty try; Conversions McGowan 2; Penalties McGowan 3.

ENGLAND U-21: M Mapletoft (Rugby); J Sleightholme (Wakefield), M Dawson (Northampton), D Edwards (Wakefield), D O'Leary (Saracens); P Burke (London Irish), K Bracken (Bristol); C Clark (Swansea Univ), M Regan (Bristol), D Crompton (Bath), R Bramley (Wakefield, capt), R West (Gloucester), A Diprose (Saracens), A Morris (Sheffield), M Rennell (Bedford). Replacements: A Handley (Waterloo) for Edwards, 52; G Williams (Bedford) for O'Leary, 61; C Johnson (Leicester) for Regan, 76.

IRELAND U-21: I Gray (Queen's Univ, Belfast); D Hernan (Univ Coll, Dublin), R Hunter (Northampton), S Tynan (Terenure Coll), G McCluskey (Portadown); A McGowan (Blackrock Coll), N Assaf (Blackrock Coll); M Carroll (Old Belvedere), K Wood (Garryowen), P Wallace (Univ Coll, Cork, capt), G Longwell (Queen's Univ, Belfast), B Cusack (Bective Rangers), N Taylor (Old Crescent), L Toland (Old Crescent), S Kirkpatrick (Malone). Replacement: D Sheehan (Garryowen) for Hernan, 30.

Referee: D Leslie (Scotland).