By Alan Smith
They had to wait a century to host a senior international on Leeside, but at the newly revamped Temple Hill last night, the 3,000 that paid in and braved the cold were treated to a classic, with the Ireland Club side maintaining their 100% record on home turf against the English Counties.
It wasn’t until Ger Slattery went over for Ireland's third try of the evening in the final minute that victory was secured - but the home side were never behind during a thrilling 80 minutes.
Stuart Morrow opened the scoring on 13 with a runaway try after intercepting a Rory Teague pass on his own ten-metre line. His pace proved just too much for the retreating Scott Barrow, who was the intended recipient of Teague's wayward pass, and Craig Ronaldson duly added the conversion.
Teague cut the deficit by three with a penalty on 17, though Ronaldson, who finished the evening with a tally of six successful kicks out of seven, made it 10-3 three minutes later.
He found his range again to push the gap out to 10 soon after, but a fantastic try from England’s Nev Edwards, following on from good handling by Matt Hall and Scott Barrow, kept England within a score.
But Ireland grounded for a second time on the verge of half-time when good work by the pack yielded a chance for Ben Reilly to cross the line, Ronaldson adding the extras to make 20-8 at the midway point.
With England scrum-half Matt Heeks in the bin, the Lansdowne out-half struck another penalty early in the second half, but after skipper Gerry Hurley was yellow carded six minutes later the game swung in England’s favour.
Seconds after Hurley departed, Heeks found a gap in the hosts' defensive line to touch down. Teague’s conversion was successful and four minutes after that Will Hurrell went over in the corner to make it 23-20.
Teague wasted a great chance to level by skewing a straightforward penalty wide with 10 minutes to go, but after Ronaldson became the second Irish player sent to the bin, Ireland were forced to endure a raft of pressure in the final minutes.
They soaked up everything that came their way however, and sealed it with two additional minutes played when Slattery went over, Ronaldson again nailing the conversion.
Ireland Club: R Mullane (Shannon); T McCoy (Clontarf) (J Thompson 35 [Ballynahinch]), K Lett (Clontarf), S Morrow (Ballynahinch), D Fanning (St Mary's); C Ronaldson (Lansdowne) (B Keeshan 82 [Dolphin]), G Hurley (Cork Constitution) (S Cronin 82 [Clontarf]); C McMahon (St Mary's), G Slattery (Young Munster) (R Byrne 82 [UCD]), K Griffin (Shannon) (P O'Regan 70 [Old Belvedere]); E Kelly (UL Bohemians) (N Melbourne 60 [Young Munster]), B Reilly (Clontarf); W Ryan (UCC), D Kenny (UCD) (G Moore 60 [Malone]), F Cogan (Clontarf).
England Counties: P Hodgkinson; O Marchon (W Hurrell 54), J Adams, S Barrow, N Edwards; R Teague, M Heeks (L Barker 66); T Fidler (R Kalbraier 45), M Hall, M George (D Dickinson 64); Will Warden, J Inglis; Sam Shires (Ben West 37), Dave Allen, J Burton (Billy Johnson 45).