Australia’s Schools and U18s side suffered a heartbreaking 22-17 loss to the Ulster U19s Academy in Belfast on Wednesday morning.
It took until the final minutes for Ulster to steal the victory, with the Australians holding a 17-15 lead late in the game, but a gap on the right edge gave them the chance to clinch the final try of the game and the five-point win.
With some key personnel changes for their second tour match against a team generally a year older than the visitors, the Belfast encounter was always going to be a challenge but Australia was left ruing a host of missed opportunities.
Australia dominated the attack for much of the game but Ulster’s patience in defence and their own errors at times kept them off the line.
On the other hand, Ulster found a score almost every time they went into their attacking zone.
The Aussies showed some power in the opening scrum, impressive against a team at least a year older and had the lion’s share of the attacking possession in the clash.
Outside of the scrummaging, Ulster’s bigger bodies showed in Belfast, with the Irishmen proving too much in defence at times, driving the Aussies back in tackles as they peppered the hosts’ line.
Australia looked dangerous in attack as the first half ticked on, but a knock on snuffed out their chance to score and their next chance was ended by a pass that missed its target.
Despite the Aussie dominance, Ulster, were first to score, with their pack driving over with their first real opportunity to take the lead.
Australia flyhalf Carter Gordon wasn’t afraid to experiment in attack, putting in some ambitious kicks in Ulster’s 22 but the Aussies just couldn’t complete the final passage to a score.
That was until a slick one-two running play put fullback Vincent Creagh over to narrow the gap to two points.
Tireless flanker Carlo Tizzano tried to spark something in attack as the Aussies continued to build pressure, gaining critical ground for his side after a missed Ulster penalty opportunity.
A try was clearly on the Australians’ mind deep in attack, with Gordon kicking to touch twice in a row, and it paid off in a textbook rolling maul try.
Ulster levelled things up right on half-time with a penalty as the Aussies were warned over their discipline.
Winger Brendan Jimenez was involved in plenty, cleaning up loose Ulster ball in defence and sparking Australia’s attack when they had space on the edge.
Australia was forced to defend its own line hard early in the second half but lock Max Douglas put the toe to a loose ball to get them back in attacking territory, before Ulster turned the tables with a score.
Ulster caught the Aussie defence off guard with the first try of the second half, taking the ball from the back of the maul and running over in the corner.
A lineout overthrow looked like ending another run of patient Aussie attack but they managed to pinch the ball back and that attacking charge opened up a gap to score their third try and take the lead for the first time.
Ulster peppered the Australian line late in the piece and parked on their defensive end in scrum after scrum, the Aussies were heavily tested.
That pressure ultimately paid off for the Irish, spotting a defensive overlap and scoring in the right corner to steal the win in the final four minutes.
Australian Schools and U18s coach Andrew Moloney said he was proud of his team under some adversity but lamented their inability to finish in attack.
“The side is currently battling injury and illness….we started the match well, controlling possession and the play but lacked a little bit of punch and were unable to score enough points to put Ulster away,” he said.
“I was proud of the 23 boys who took the field tonight, including some who have been unwell the past few days, however we handed control of the game to Ulster with basic errors, which was disappointing.
“Ulster were patient and capitalised on our mistakes.
“There are some pleasing signs in our performance but it was also a reality check for our boys on what is required to perform at this level and in these conditions.
The Aussies are expected to shuffle their side again for their first international this weekend, against the Ireland U19s and Moloney said his players’ response in that game would be telling.
“We are looking forward to our next game against Ireland, which is going to be massive and is something that the boys are really looking forward to,” he said.
“I know the boys are disappointed on their performance tonight, but we now have an opportunity to demonstrate what sort of character this side is made up.”
The result gives them a 1-1 record so far on tour after beating Munster’s U19s last weekend 34-15.
Ulster Academy 22
Tries: Stewart, Saunderson, Rankin
Cons: Doak 2
Australian Schools & U18s 17
Tries: Creagh, Kopua, Bell