England Under-20s lost 26-20 to Ireland Under-20s at Newcastle Falcons’ Kingston Park in the Six Nations despite taking a 20-6 lead.
England led thanks to Sam Smith’s early try, which Mathew Protheroe converted before Johnny McPhillips reduced the deficit with a penalty.
Protheroe then set up George Perkins to cross for England's second converted try while a further penalty each made it 17-6 at the break.
It was soon 20-6 with a Protheroe drop goal before Ireland came back fighting with James Ryan charging over off the back of a maul.
Matthew Byrne then crossed in the corner which Brett Connon converted. With the game perfectly poised at 20-18 in England’s favour, captain Callum Chick looked to have scored a defining try but after consultation with the TMO it was ruled out.
Andrew Porter’s try with ten minutes left to play gave Ireland the lead for the first time in the game. There was time for more action however with Stan South red carded for an illegal tackle and Connon’s late penalty making it 26-20.
Head Coach Jon Collard praised his side's performance in the early stages but said that learnings needed to be taken from this experience.
He said: “I was very pleased with the decision making and composure we showed in the first twenty minutes and how we took the opportunities for those tries. When Ireland then began to stretch us, we regrouped with our defence and showed composure. The first few minutes after the break, which included the drop goal, demonstrated a sensational bit of rugby and first class game management.
“After that it was a catalogue of errors and credit to Ireland, their kicking game was better than ours. They forced us back into our territory and kept the pressure on.
“The boys don’t go out to lose,” he added. “They want to be the best they can be. Their endeavour and intent can’t be questioned but what I do ask is what learnings are they going to take from this, individually and collectively, around game understanding and decision making? They put themselves in a good position to win the game and really take it forward but then found themselves on the back foot.
“I do feel for the players, defeat hurts but out of it will come so much learning. As coaches we know a lot more about the players and they will know better what the intensity is like at this level. It is about what we take from this experience and how we move forward together into the rest of the tournament.
“The next two games mean everything. This age group has been very successful over the last five years and we need to step up, there is a lot of pride. We will need to come prepared against a very good Welsh side in two weeks. Those final two games mean a lot for the players’ futures and we will keep building as a group.”
Tries: Smith, Perkins
Conversions: Protheroe (2)
Drop Goals: Protheroe
England U20 v Ireland U20
15. Max Malins (Saracens)
14. George Perkins (Saracens)
13. Joe Marchant (Harlequins)
12. Charlie Thacker (Leicester Tigers)
11. Ollie Thorley (Gloucester Rugby)
10. Mathew Protheroe (Gloucester Rugby)
9. Max Green (Yorkshire Carnegie)
1. Tom West (Wasps)
2. Jack Singleton (Worcester Warriors)
3. Will Stuart (Wasps)
4. Huw Taylor (Worcester Warriors)
5. George Nott (Sale Sharks)
6. Archie White (Harlequins)
7. Sam Smith (Worcester Warriors)
8. Callum Chick (Newcastle Falcons) ©
16. Curtis Langdon (London Irish)
17. Jake Pope (Sale Sharks)
18. Billy Keast (Exeter Chiefs)
19. Stan South (Harlequins)
20. Jack Willis (Wasps)
21. Jamie Shillcock (Worcester Warriors)
22. Joe Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs)
23. Paolo Odogwu (Leicester Tigers)
Under-20s Six Nations:
Scotland 24 – 6 England
Friday 5 February (8pm)
Broadwood Stadium, Glasgow
Italy 7 – 42 England
Friday 12 February (7.10pm local time)
Stadio Pacifici, San Dona' Di Piave
England 20-26 Ireland
Friday 26 February
Kingston Park, Newcastle
Friday 11 March (7.45pm)
Ashton Gate, Bristol
Tickets are available here: http://tickets.bristol-sport.co.uk/categories/bristolrugbyhome
Friday 18 March (6.45pm local time)
Stade du Hameau, Pau