England Saxons too strong for Ireland A
PA Sport
February 1, 2008

England Saxons notched a 31-13 victory over Ireland A in their clash at Welford Road tonight.

Tom Varndell reminded Brian Ashton of his lethal finishing skills with two second-half tries as England Saxons ultimately overpowered Ireland A on a bitterly cold night at Welford Road.

In the 54th minute, Leicester wing Varndell collected a sumptuous crossfield kick from London Irish centre Shane Geraghty and grounded in the corner to delight his home crowd.

Eighteen minutes later he took a neat offload from Dylan Hartley and scampered over to seal victory for a Saxons side with an average age of 23 and with only five fully-capped players in their starting XV.

It was a pointed reminder to Ashton of Varndell's predatory skills as the RBS Six Nations get under way tomorrow and ultimately accounted for a vastly more experienced Ireland outfit boasting around 150 senior caps.

Delon Armitage, who for long periods was little more than a frozen spectator on the opposite flank, popped up in the last minute to claim England's fourth and final try and seal a powerful second-half Saxons display.

Gloucester fly-half Ryan Lamb was forced off midway through a bitterly disappointing first half which saw David Paice cross the line but Ireland led 10-8 at the break.

Ireland, skippered by the influential Shane Horgan, edged ahead with a third-minute penalty from fly-half Andrew Dunne but the Saxons' response was initially impressive.

A penalty from Lamb drew Saxons level shortly after but Ireland showed a craft and poise in midfield which at times threatened to tear England apart.

They orchestrated a move which saw the ball pass through five pairs of hands and very nearly breached England's rearguard down the left wing.

The danger cleared and a brief purple patch from the Saxons culminated in London Irish's Paice finding a hole to plough over the line from point-blank range.

Lamb, having taken a knock, was unlucky to see his conversion drift narrowly wide of an upright and with the Gloucester playmaker having departed, Ireland forged ahead.

Isaac Boss, from a scrum, produced a rapier-like offload to Tommy Bowe and he showed blistering speed to scamper over in the right corner despite the best efforts of Saxons full-back Nick Abendanon.

England steadily improved after the break and Varndell's clinical brace edged them ahead before Armitage went over in the left corner in the dying stages.

England Saxons (8) 31
Tries: Paice, Varndell (2), Armitage. Cons: Armitage.
Pens: Lamb, Armitage (2)

Ireland A (10) 13
Tries: Bowe. Cons: Dunne. Pens: Dunne (2)

England Saxons: Nick Abendanon (Bath); Tom Varndell (Leicester Tigers), Ollie Smith (Leicester Tigers), Shane Geraghty (London Irish), Delon Armitage (London Irish); Ryan Lamb (Gloucester), Lee Dickson (Newcastle Falcons); Nick Wood (Gloucester), David Paice (London Irish), Jason Hobson (Bristol), Tom Palmer (London Wasps), Nick Kennedy (London Irish), Phil Dowson (Newcastle Falcons), Ben Woods (Newcastle), Jordan Crane (Leicester Tigers - captain).

Replacements: Anthony Allen (Gloucester) for Lamb 17, Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints) for Paice 50, George Skivington (Wasps) for Palmer 60, David Wilson (Newcastle Falcons) for Hobson 60, Mike Brown (Harlequins) for Varndell 77, James Grindal (Newcastle Falcons) for Dickson 78, Will Skinner (Harlequins) for Woods 79.

Ireland A: Gavin Duffy (Connacht); Tommy Bowe (Ulster), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster), Shane Horgan (Leinster - captain), Johne Murphy (Leicester); Andrew Dunne (Connacht), Isaac Boss (Ulster); Cian Healy (Leinster), Frankie Sheahan (Munster), Bryan Young (Ulster), Trevor Hogan (Leinster), Ryan Caldwell (Ulster), Stephen Keogh (Leinster), Shane Jennings (Leinster), Alan Quinlan (Munster).

Replacements: Declan Fitzpatrick (Ulster) for Young 59, Niall O'Connor (Ulster) for Dunne 59, Donncha Ryan (Munster) for Horgan 62, Daniel O'Riordan (Connacht) for Murphy 74, Chris Keane (Leinster) for Boss 74, Adrian Flavin (Connacht) for Sheahan 79, David Pollock (Ulster) for Keogh 79.

Referee: Mr P Allan (Scotland)

Attendance: 10,749

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