Saxons see off Irish Wolfhounds
January 28, 2012
England Saxons scrum-half Ben Spencer crosses for the game's opening try in Exeter
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England Saxons were outscored by three tries to two but still managed to see off the Irish Wolfhounds 23-17 at Sandy Park on Saturday evening courtesy of a fine scrummaging display.
The hosts made a fine start, racking up an early penalty through No.10 Freddie Burns before half-back partern Ben Spencer dived over ten minutes in for the game's opening try. However, the Irish replied through David Kearney midway through the first half but the winger's touchdown went unconverted, leaving five points between the two sides at the break.
England threatened to pull clear when No.8 Thomas Waldrom crashed over on 53 minutes but the Wolfhounds posted a swift riposte through replacement scrum-half Tomas O'Leary. The game was delicately balanced once more but Burns landed two more penalties in the final quarter to put the outcome beyond doubt long before Simon Zebo crossed in the dying seconds for the visitors.
The Saxons featured six capped internationals and three members of the World Cup squad in Delon Armitage, Matt Banahan and Waldrom - but the emphasis was on youth. Spencer, who only joined Saracens from Cambridge last summer, continued his remarkable season with an impressive individual display on his representative debut.
England's senior coaching team were in the stands to witness Worcester prop Matt Mullan lead a demolition job of the Irish pack right from the outset. George Robson, the Harlequins lock, dominated the lineout and the Wolfhounds could not contain Waldrom's trademark bullocking runs from the base of an advancing scrum.
England's forwards flexed their muscles after Mullan had helped win an early penalty. Burns went for touch on that occasion and England lost control in the shadow of the posts after driving in-field. It was an early warning shot to Ireland.
Ugo Monye's strong work at the breakdown secured England another penalty and this time Burns went for goal, putting the Saxons ahead after six minutes. When England's scrum won another penalty, Burns again went for touch and the Saxons' built a powerful driving maul after Gaskell's clean lineout take.
England drove in-field, Paul Doran-Jones broke away to within touching distance of the line and Spencer made the most of some illegal blocking to dart over for the try. As the 19-year-old shaped to pass, Robson created a gap by holding off Isaac Boss and Spencer stole around the fringes to dive over for a try converted by Burns.
Ireland launched their first attack of note with a break from fly-half Ian Keatley and they should have scored after Zebo, who scored a hat-trick for Munster against Northampton last weekend, was released down the left. Banahan came racing across and crashed Zebo into touch with a tackle of dubious legality but the Irish wing had two men in support on his inside shoulder.
The Wolfhounds kept the pressure on created the breakthrough with a driving maul before Eoin O'Malley drifted wide to draw Matt Hopper and create a gap for Kearney to score. The classy Leinster wing was the pick of the Wolfhounds players and there is more than a touch of his brother, the Ireland fullback Rob, in the way he plays.
Burns missed a penalty shot before the interval as Waldrom, in control at the base of a dominant England scrum, began to catch the eye with a series of strong carries. The Leicester No.8 played as if he had a point to prove after being overtaken in the England pecking order by Ben Morgan and Luke Narraway since his role as an unused member of the World Cup squad.
Ireland started well after the interval with a sublime take and counter-attack from Kearney but it was the Saxons who scored first. Hopper had just come when Burns' attempted chip in behind the Ireland defence deflected off Neville Spence for Waldrom, who collected the loose ball and charged over the line.
Both sides began to ring the changes and the Wolfhounds introduced O'Leary at scrum-half, who brought an energy to the Irish effort. O'Leary darted over from the base of a ruck to keep the Wolfhounds in touch, picking off Doran-Jones in the Saxons defensive line to scamper over.
Burns missed one penalty shot to tie up the match before Kearney came flying across to deny Monye as the England wing chased Armitage's kick. But Burns kept his nerve to nudge England into a 20-12 lead and then sealed the victory with his third penalty of a satisfying evening for the Saxons.
Ireland kept plugging away and Zebo crossed in added time to bring the Wolfhounds closer than they deserved but the Saxons' already had their victory.
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