Ireland Under-20s win France thriller to secure Six Nations title
Noel McNamara’s side one win away from the Grand Slam after fine performance in Cork
Charlie Ryan celebrates Ireland under-20s win over France. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho
Ireland Under-20s 31 France Under-20s 29
Ireland were crowned U-20 Six Nations champions for only the second time with a magnificent victory in Cork, and they will now head to north Wales next Friday seeking to complete a first ever Grand Slam in this grade.
Noel McNamara’s side were full value for their fourth win of the campaign, showing tremendous resilience to overcome injuries and a powerful French side to dethrone the champions.
Now they will turn their attention to completing the Grand Slam - last done by Ireland at Under-21 level in 2007 - when they take on a Wales side surprisingly defeated in Scotland.
The afternoon rain cleared to present near perfect conditions on the 4G pitch at Musgrave Park and a crowd of 8,008 provided an ideal backdrop for two exciting teams.
And the players didn’t disappoint during a cracking opening half where Ireland initially got the upper-hand and raced into a 10-0 lead before champions France, fielding a side which included seven who played in the Top 14 last weekend, took control.
They deserved their 14-13 lead and would be been further ahead had fullback Alexandre de Nardi not butchered a try five minutes from the break when he knocked on, unchallenged, over the line after a grubber from outhalf Louis Carbonel.
But it was that sort of game. Ireland made light of the midweek loss of captain David Hawkshaw with Sean French producing some stunning rugby at inside centre.
And outhalf Ben Healy, in for late withdrawal Harry Byrne, also did well but he paid a big price for failing to find touch with a clearance after 26 minutes and from the initial counter-attack by Pau winger Vincent Pinto, France spread left for Carbonel to exchange passes with de Nardi before sprinting through for their second try.
The conversion put them 14-10 in front and Ireland’s brilliant start was wiped out. Healy, no stranger to the venue having guided Glenstal Abbey to their maiden Munster Schools Cup final triumph a year ago at Musgrave Park, settled quickly with a fourth minute penalty in front of the posts.
The threat posed by Joseph, a try-scorer for Racing 92 last weekend against La Rochelle, was evident early on and it took an excellent double-tackle from his opposite number John Hodnett and prop Josh Wycherley to deny him just short of the line and force a knock-on.
There was a further boost for Ireland when they won a penalty from the resultant scrum and then they extended their lead with a magnificent try from deep.
Healy started the move with fullback Jake Flannery but it was the break made by French which made the real ground and when Healy was held, Ireland recycled and loosehead Wycherley spotted a gap beside the right. Healy’s conversion made it 10-0 after just 12 minutes.
But the reigning Six Nations and World Champions hit back with Carbonel setting up loosehead Jean-Baptiste Gros for their opening try after 15 minutes and then Carbonel edged them in front with their second try, but another penalty from Healy left Ireland trailing by just 14-13 at the interval.
Incessant pressure from Ireland after the restart yielded a third penalty and the lead from Healy after the French had saturated everything thrown at them with referee Adam Leal, himself a late replacement for the injured Craig Maxwell-Keys, opting not to dish out a card despite playing advantage three times in the onslaught.
Healy and Carbonel swapped penalties before the Irish pressure yielded a second try under the posts for Wycherley, with Healy’s conversion making it 26-17.
But a sloppy turnover in a good attacking position cost Ireland dearly as France broke from their 22 for Carbonel to sprint home and cut the gap to four.
However, Ireland got a cushion when replacement loosehead Callum Reid squeezed over after good breaks by Healy and his half-back partner Craig Casey, with the impressive number nine forced to go off with an ankle injury with his side taking a 31-22 lead into the final ten minutes.
They were forced to endure a nervous finish when replacement scrumhalf Kevin Viallard scored a converted try in the final minute but they closed it out from the restart to seal a famous win.
Ireland - Tries: J Wycherley (2), Reid Cons: B Healy (2) Pens: B Healy (4).
France -Tries: JB Gros, L Carbonel (2), Viallard. Cons: L Carbonel (3) Pen: L Carbonel.
Ireland: J Flannery (Shannon); A Kernohan (Queen’s University), L Turner (Dublin University), S French (Cork Constitution), J Wren (Cork Constitution); B Healy (Garryowen), C Casey (Shannon); J Wycherley (Young Munster), D Tierney-Martin (Corinthians), T Clarkson (Dublin University); C Ryan (UCD), N Murray (Buccaneers); M Moloney (Old Belvedere), S Penny (UCD), J Hodnett (UCC). Replacements: C Reid (Banbridge) for Wycherley (39 mins, blood), Wycherley for Reid (half-time), R Baird (Dublin University) for Murray (52 mins), Reid for Wycherley (66 mins), J McKee (Old Belvedere) for Tierney-Martin (66 mins), R Russell (Dublin University) for Flannery (66 mins), C Foley (St Mary’s College) for Casey (69 mins), Flannery for Kernohan (74 mins).
France: A de Nardi (Stade Montois); V Pinto (Section Paloise), A Vincent (Montpellier RC), J Delbouis (Stade Francais Paris), M Lebel (Stade Toulousain); L Carbonel (RC Toulon), Q Delord (Lyon OU); JB Gros (RC Toulon), R Barka (Section Paloise), A Burin (SU Agen); G Maravat (SU Agen), F Vanverberghe (RC Toulon); P Boudehent (Stade Rochelais), S Zegueur (US Oyonnax), J Joseph (Racing 92). Replacements: M Lemardelet (AS Clermont Auvergne) for Boudehent (46 mins), E Eglaine (FC Grenoble) for Gros (55 mins), G Beria (AS Clermont Auvergne) for Burin (55 mins), L Zarantonello (US Montauban) for Barka (69 mins), A Warion (Provence Rugby) for Vanverberghe (69 mins), M Smaili (RC Toulon) for Delbouis (69 mins), K Viallard (AS Clermont Auvergne) for (75 mins).
Referee: Adam Leal (England).