Emerging Ireland lost 16 – 8 to the South Africa President’s XV in the Tbilisi Cup this afternoon, a match they really should have won. Ireland’s only try came from Michael Allen with Ian Keatley adding a penalty, however with a dominant scrum and well functioning line out they should have done so much better.

I did some moaning about this tournament when we announced the original squad but I must admit I’ve really enjoyed the two matches that Emerging Ireland have been involved in. Don’t know if it’s the excitable Georgian commentators, or laughing at the photographers following the game en mass up and down the side line, or maybe it’s because the games are missing a fair amount of the commercialism, cynical play and macho posturing of the senior seniors, but they have been largely agreeable romps in Georgia on the whole with the occasional bout of good rugby breaking out.

Perhaps living up to their name Ireland were slow to emerge in this one going behind to a penalty and a soft try in the opening 15 minutes to trail 10 – 0. however they re-grouped well and enjoyed the bulk of possession for the remainder of the half. The centre paring of Noel Reid and Brendan Macken looked particularly dangerous, with Reid making a few incisive breaks, but unfortunately Ireland lacked the composure to make their chances count.

Ian Keatley clawed back three points through the boot but it was a sparse reward for Ireland’s efforts and the teams turned round with the score reading South Africa 10 Ireland 3.

Unfortunately coverage was fairly scrappy at the start of the second half and the game was difficult to follow but South Africa were 16 – 3 ahead by the 49th minute with two more penalties from their out half who had an impressive boot.

Ireland brought on Allen for Tiernan O’Halloran, Rob Herring for Annett and Ricky Lutton for Jack McGrath around 50 minutes and five minutes later Michael Heaney was on for John Cooney.

The substitutions appeared to have the desired effect with Ireland camping in the South Africa 22 and it’s extraordinary how they were not awarded a penalty try after destroying the Bokkes  scrum not once but twice. However an Ulster inspired try brought Ireland their just rewards with Allen crashing over after the fourth or fifth scrum reset. I believe the ball was only touched by Ulster players with Heaney feeding it into the scrum, Herring hooking it back for Diack to pop it up to the breaking Heaney who fed inside to the onrushing Allen who blasted through the defence to score. They should have let an Ulster man take the conversion as well for with Keatley’s miss of a reasonably straight forward conversion so went the game with Ireland trailing by eight points at 16 – 8.

Ireland were well on top and should have been awarded a second try with Robbie Diack crashing over the line for the ball to be recycled for Heaney to dot it down but the unsighted referee ruled, somewhat prematurely, that the ball had been held up when it was there for everyone else in the ground to see. Poor decision making at scrum time allowed South Africa to clear their lines and the game degenerated into a series of set pieces as the players ran out of puff.

South Africa slotted over a long range penalty in the dying minutes to secure the game 19 – 8.

Emerging Ireland: David Kearney, Niall Morris, Brendan Macken, Noel Reid, Tiernan O’Halloran, Ian Keatley, John Cooney , Jack McGrath, Niall Annett, Michael Bent, David Foley, Ian Nagle, Rhys Ruddock, Jordi Murphy, Robbie Diack. Replacements: Rob Herring, Richard Lutton, David O’Callaghan, Eoin McKeon, Michael Heaney, Eoin Griffin , Michael Allen.

With regards to the Ulster lads I thought Niall Annett had an absolutely brilliant first half, great darts and he was everywhere on the field. Really, really impressive and he has to get more game time for Ulster next season. Herring did well when he came on but he was nowhere near as dynamic as Annett who set the bar very high.

Allen again looked very keen to get involved and took his try well, it’s just a pity the game degenerated after he scored as I’d have liked to have seen him running at the defence. Heaney looked sharper than Cooney with his passing and he really should have been awarded a try and Lutton absolutely mullered his opposite number in the scrum giving Ireland a fantastic platform that they failed to exploit.

Robbie Diack has been the stand out player for the two games but his decision making, if indeed it was his, to move the ball of the back of the scrum when the South African front five were  disappearing up their own backsides was poor and cost Ireland the game.