Noel McNamara’s youngsters erased a 14-point deficit with back-to-back tries from Jonathan Wren and replacement Brian Deeny on the 70-minute mark. Ben Healy nailed a conversion tight to the left touchline as part of his 13-point kicking haul.
However, despite losing a third player to the sin-bin – replacement Rusiate Tuima for a high tackle on Deeny – it was 14-man England who produced the stronger finish in the mud-fest as Willis bundled his way over in the dying seconds.
Ireland’s only defeat in three meetings with England this season will see them face New Zealand in Saturday’s 7th-8th place play-off at the same Club Old Resian venue (kick-off 1pm local time/5pm Irish time). The Baby Blacks lost 8-7 to Wales whose out-half Cai Evans kicked a late match-winning penalty.
Proud of the all-round effort as they soldier on with a 11-man injury list, Ireland captain Charlie Ryan said: “It would have been easy for us just to tap out at 14 down, so (I’m) really proud of the boys to come back. Unfortunately it didn’t work out for us in the end. That happens in a game of rugby, but really proud of the performance from the lads.
“We’re a confident group, we would have backed ourselves to win this game. Unfortunately it didn’t work out for us. We’ll go again and we’ve one more game to go at the weekend. 100% we can beat New Zealand.”