England Saxons 17-13 Ireland 'A'
Saxons edge out Ireland 'A'
January 31, 2010
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Date/Time: Jan 31, 2010, 14:00 local, 14:00 GMT
Venue: Recreation Ground, Bath
England Saxons 17 - 13 Ireland A

England Saxons battled to a 17-13 victory over Ireland 'A' in their clash at The Rec in Bath.

Fly-half Shane Geraghty steered the hosts to the win with a try, two conversions and a penalty to issue a reminder to England manager Martin Johnson of what he might be missing after the Northampton No.10 was dropped from the senior squad for this year's Six Nations. Winger David Strettle grabbed the Saxons' opening try while they also had to weather a yellow card for prop Paul Doran-Jones.

Replacement No.8 Chris Henry grabbed a second half try for the Irish while fly-half Paddy Wallace kicked a conversion and two penalties but they were unable to repeat their 49-22 mauling of the Saxons in final of last summer's Churchill Cup.

The Saxons named a young side for the clash with just four players with Test experience in Geraghty, Strettle, hooker David Paice and prop Paul Doran-Jones. In contrast, the Ireland 'A' squad was packed with international veterans including returning front-rowers Rory Best and Marcus Horan, who have both been out with long-term injuries.

The visitors began brightly and took an early lead through a Wallace penalty with the Saxons struggling to settle into their game. Centre Keith Matthews conjured a fine break to expose some defensive concerns for the Saxons but they bounced back with the opening try of the game. A powerful catch and drive took them deep into the Irish 22 before lively scrum-half Ben Youngs darted down the short side to create an opening for Strettle before feeding Strettle who dotted down in the corner. Geraghty nailed the difficult conversion from the touchline to edge the Saxons further ahead.

Irish winger Fionn Carr was the next to carve the Saxons open with worrying ease but scrum-half Peter Stringer was guilty of taking the wrong option that allowed the defence to recover and reclaim the ball. But hands in the ruck by Saxons skipper George Skivington gifted Wallace another shot at the posts which he landed to bring Ireland back to within a point.

Despite their defensive shortcomings, the Saxons were growing in confidence, a fact illustrated by another eye-catching break that saw centre Dominic Waldouck wriggled free before feeding winger Noah Cato who was bundled into touch just short of the line. They were soon back on the front foot with fullback Alex Goode making in-roads before Cato and centre Brad Barritt combined well to allow Geraghty the simple task of sprinting over unopposed.

Geraghty's second successful conversion took the Saxons into a healthy 14-6 lead and with his destructive Saints colleague Phil Dowson causing Ireland all kinds of problems from No.8, the home side continued to threaten. Another penalty, this time against Waldouck for coming in from the side, allowed Wallace the chance to reduce the arrears but he pushed it wide of the posts.

Ireland coach Michael Bradley made two changes for the second period, replacing hooker Rory Best with John Fogarty and sending on lock Ryan Caldwell for Mick O'Driscoll. And England also utilised their bench, with Gloucester back-row forward Luke Narraway, Leicester lock Geoff Parling and Wasps hooker Rob Webber all being given chances to impress.

Ireland 'A' began the second half as they had started the first but they were frustrated by an improved defensive showing from the Saxons. Another sparkling break from Cato was a rare attacking riposte from the Saxons with the Irish exerting more and more pressure which eventually reaped reward.

Saxons prop Paul Doran-Jones was shown a yellow card for killing the ball in the shadow of the posts and from the resulting scrum, Henry powered over with Wallace's conversion making it a one-point game. A tough obstruction call against replacement Darren Cave then gave Geraghty the chance to give his side some breathing space but he pulled his effort wide of the posts.

Back came the Irish again, with a big scrum forcing a turnover that led to a break for the electric Carr but he was felled by a great tap tackle from Geraghty. Ireland 'A' continued to work the Saxons' defence but their eagerness got the better of them with Henry penalised for off-side which allowed Geraghty to close the game out with the last kick of the game.

England Saxons boss Stuart Lancaster was full of praise for Geraghty following the game. "Shane's contribution was first class," said Lancaster, whose squad now go on to face Italy A in Treviso next Sunday. "He was always going to start at 10 in this game. He is someone whose progress I have followed closely, and I think he has grown up a lot, both as a player and as a person.

"He has got self-confidence, and I am really pleased for him. He is in a very competitive position at 10 - Jonny Wilkinson and Toby Flood are not poor players - and Shane needs to build his overall game. But he has got that innate ability to develop and finish things when gaps open up."

Geraghty admitted the Churchill Cup drubbing had been a source of motivation for the team's next meeting. "The big thing was to win today," he said. "Mentally this week, we talked about unfinished business from last summer and we wanted to go after them in attack and defence. All week, we had that mindset. Ireland are an experienced team, and it was very physical out there, but we backed ourselves in defence especially, which is what won us the game."

Lancaster added, "The average age of our side was only 23 with just 17 caps between them, up against an Ireland team with more than 300 caps. They had age and experience on their side. We didn't have it all our own way, but in the first half we took our chances and in the second half our defence was outstanding.

"It is nice to turn the tables on that Churchill Cup result. Irish rugby has been going very well, both internationally and provincially, so that is a fantastic win for us."

England Saxons: Alex Goode (Saracens); David Strettle (Harlequins), Dominic Waldouck (London Wasps), Brad Barritt (Saracens), Noah Cato (Saracens); Shane Geraghty (Northampton Saints), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers); Nick Wood (Gloucester Rugby), David Paice (London Irish), Paul Doran-Jones (Gloucester), Dave Attwood (Gloucester), George Skivington (London Wasps, capt), Tom Wood (Worcester Warriors), Andy Saull (Saracens), Phil Dowson (Northampton Saints)

Replacements: Tom Mercey (Saracens), Rob Webber (London Wasps), Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers), Luke Narraway (Gloucester), Micky Young (Newcastle Falcons), Jon Clarke (Northampton Saints), Miles Benjamin (Worcester Warriors)

Ireland 'A': Gavin Duffy (Connacht); Fionn Carr (Connacht), Fergus McFadden (Leinster), Keith Matthews (Connacht), Ian Dowling (Munster); Paddy Wallace (Ulster), Peter Stringer (Munster); Marcus Horan (Munster), Rory Best (Ulster), Tony Buckley (Munster), Mick O'Driscoll (Munster, capt), Devin Toner (Leinster), Shane Jennings (Leinster), Sean O'Brien (Leinster), John Muldoon (Connacht)

Replacements: John Fogarty (Leinster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Ryan Caldwell (Ulster), Chris Henry (Ulster), Isaac Boss (Ulster), Ian Humphreys (Ulster), Darren Cave (Ulster)

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