The England Youth squad followed up their Test series victory over France with a narrow 22-18 victory against Wales at The Gnoll in Wrexham earlier today (Saturday April 6).
Stuart Barrow’s side left it late to secure victory, with a Jake Campbell try coming inside the last five minutes proving to be enough to see off a resilient Wales side that took the game right to the wire.
“We started very well today,” said England Youth coach Barrow. “We were going well and looking strong but then I think the lads went away from the structures a little and we got hurt.
“Wales got a sniff and scored two quick tries and they looked the more likely team to go into the half with a lead but thankfully our lads held on.
“We came out in the second half and our completion rate was low and it was a real test of our character but that’s why these games are called Test matches – they challenge you.
“We got a back-to-back set at the end which was really the first time we got into the attacking zone in the second half and we showed a lot of character to score in that situation and get the win.
“Wales should be very proud of their effort today, they ran us very close and they could have easily won.
“The last few weeks have been about putting the best junior elite players up against each other which they don’t get week in week out. It’s been a real learning experience for our boys – some of them have never had to chase a game before and they have learned a lot and there are lots of positives to take away from the experience.”
England wasted no time in laying down a marker in the match and opened up an early 16-0 lead courtesy of tries from Aaron Smith, Jordan Lane and James Brown.
Smith’s score, the first of the game, came after centre Kameron Pearce Paul forced the defence into an error from a cross field kick and Smith darted over from the next play-the-ball.
Lane added his name to the scoring charts just two minutes later, when Wales again struggled to deal with an attacking kick and with the ball played wide Lane was on hand to finish in the corner.
Half-back Brown extended the lead when he showed good supporting awareness to latch on to a break down the middle which put him through one-on-one with the Welsh full-back who he rounded easily to touch down.
With the scoreboard reading 16-0 England looked to be in a commanding position with Wales rarely threating the defensive line but with just five minutes left on the clock Wales scored a quick-fire double.
First winger Reece Grace burst through the English defence on the half way line before drawing the defence to put half-back Morgan Knowles clean through.
Then on the stroke of half-time Wales reduced the deficit to just six points when Alex King dived over from short range to make it 16-10 on the whistle.
Wales continued to dominate possession early in the second half as both sides cancelled each other before Welsh wing Zac Williams got the crowd on their feet with a brilliant solo effort seven minutes into the half.
Williams collected a stray pass inside his own 20 meter line before stepping past the first defender and then showing his pace and acceleration to go the length of the field and touch down under heavy pressure from England’s Jack Etchells who never gave up his determined pursuit.
For the next 15 minutes Wales, buoyed by the vocal support of the several hundred fans in attendance, battered the English line and went close to scoring on several occasions.
The eventual breakthrough came with just 10 minutes remaining on the clock when full-back Ben Jones took advantage of some lapse defence to get over the line just in from the right hand touch line with half-back Knowles failing to add the extras.
At 16-18 down, England looked to be heading to their first ever defeat against Wales at Youth level but prop Daniel Douglas forced the defence into conceding a penalty with under five minutes left.
England threw everything they had at the Welsh line and after Pearce Paul sucked in the defence, Jake Campbell crashed over the line to score what proved to be the decisive score.
Lewis Fairhurst scored his third goal of the day to make it 22-18 and bring to an end an enthralling game.
England Youth squad against Wales
1, Charlie Pythian (Warrington Wolves, Latchford Albion)
2, Roshane Johnson (London Broncos, Medway Dragons)
3, Kameron Pearce Paul (London Broncos, Croydon Hurricanes)
4, Isaac Noi (Wigan Warriors, Ince Rose Bridge)
5, Jack Etchells (Wigan Warriors, Oldham St Annes)
6, James Brown (Castleford Tigers, Castleford Lock Lane)
7, Lewis Fairhurst (St Helens, Hindley)
8, Daniel Douglas (Leeds Rhinos, Drighlington)
9, Aaron Smith © (St Helens, Blackbrook)
10, Jake Campbell (St Helens, Blackbrook)
11, Jordan Lane (Hull FC, West Hull)
12, Will Gledhill (Huddersfield Giants, Wakefield Westgate)
13, Brad Harrison (Hull FC, Skirlaugh Bulls)
14, Ryan Houghton (Wigan Warriors, Blackbrook)
15, Jack Wells (Wigan Warriors, Folly Lane)
16, Jacob Ware (Leeds Rhinos, Westgate Wolves)
17, Reece Brunt (Warrington Wolves, Latchford Albion)
18, Jack Rush (Wigan Warriors, Rochdale Mayfield)
Tries: Smith, Lane, Brown, Campbell
Goals: Fairhurst 3
Wales Schoolboys squad against England
1, Ben Jones
2, Zac Williams
3, Luke Williams
4, Matthew Owen
5, Regan Grace
6, Morgan Knowles
7, Curtis Davies
8, Kieran Hughes
9, Lewis Alexander
10, Rhys Brownsell
11, Morgan Nicholas
12, Morgan Jefferies
13, Connor Davies ©
14, Alex King
15, Lloyd Bodman
16, Jordan Liney
17, Jake Carroll
Tries: Knowles, King, Williams, Jones