France Under-20 16 Ireland Under-20 17
Ireland produced a grandstand finish to snatch victory in the last minute with a try from centre Ben Brownlee. It was a remarkable comeback win that demonstrated tremendous application and courage in adversity to produce a first win on French soil since 2012.
Two victories from their opening matches will have Richie Murphy’s side bouncing into Musgrave Park at the end of the month.
It was a stunning triumph as Ireland, the better side in the first half, managed to weather a full frontal assault for most of the second before coming up with a perfectly judged riposte as the match clock entered the red.
It’s invidious to single out anyone given the collective effort but Jack Boyle, James McCormick, Conor O’Tighearnaigh, captain Reuben Crothers, Brownlee and Patrick Campbell made massive contributions to the final result.
Ireland were unlucky to trail 10-7 at half-time having played the majority of the rugby and also had a try disallowed for blocking by Crothers in the setting process of a lineout maul that eventually surged over the line.
The visitors endured a painful reminder that little inaccuracies undermined some cracking passages of rugby when they took the game superbly to a much bigger French pack. Ireland’s maul and ruck defence on the fringes was a little brittle at times and it represented a primary avenue for the home side to get over the gain line.
Still there was so much to admire in the manner in which Ireland took the game to the French, primarily through the hard running of their pack in which hooker McCormick, loosehead prop Boyle and secondrow O’Tighearnaigh were especially prominent but it was a superb effort from all eight players.
French fullback Max Auriac, who scored 26 points against Italy last week, missed an early penalty opportunity but was unerring with a much easier chance on four minutes. Ireland looked to have claimed the lead on 13 minutes.
Following direct and muscular carrying from the pack with Boyle in the van - his footwork and ability to take tackles on his terms and get over the gain line very impressive - they forced the home side to concede a penalty which outhalf Charlie Tector kicked to the corner.
The Irish maul powered over for a try but Crothers was pinged for obstruction. The visitors were soon on the attack again, surging into the French 22, again through powerful carrying and also some lovely interplay and offloading, epitomised by one exchange between the two secondrows O’Tighearnaigh and Mark Morrissey.
Unfortunately, having made their way to the threshold of the French 22 that momentum evaporated on foot of Ethan Coughlan’s ill-advised chip. French centre Louis Le Bruen was short with a long range penalty. The penchant for small errors, and a periodic lack of precision, undermined impressive Irish enterprise.
France added to their lead against the run of play, a lovely catch, shift, drive and offload at a lineout led to a try for their dynamic hooker Victor Montgaillard. Auriac converted but within five minutes had manufactured a try that originated at a lineout five metres from the French line.
Hooker James McCormick squeezed under a couple of French tacklers after Ireland had battered away around the fringes through several phases. Tector kicked the conversion to leave the visitors trailing 10-7 at the interval.
France were a great deal brighter and more assured on the resumption, Auriac rewarding some fine running rugby with a brace of penalties either side of one from Tector. Ireland turned over possession at a lineout five metres from the French line, the home side missed a long range penalty as the game became more pockmarked by mistakes.
French right wing Jefferson Joseph crossed the Irish line but was whistled back after a teammate was adjudged offside from a cross-kick. This young Irish side though doesn’t lack character and managed to force their way back into the French 22 with five minutes remaining.
French secondrow Samuel M’foudi was given a yellow card for persistent infringing at mauls, Ireland won two more penalties and having battered the French line replacement scrumhalf Matthew Devine hit Ben Brownlee on a beautiful line and the centre crashed through two attempted tackles. Tector held his nerve superbly to land the conversion.
It was a monumental victory in context and content and a proud night for this gutsy young Irish team.
4 mins: Auriac penalty, 3-0; 27: Montgaillard try, Auriac conversion, 10-0; 32: McCormick try, Tector conversion, 10-7. Half-time: 10-7. 44: Auriac penalty, 13-7; 54: Tector penalty, 13-10; 57: Auriac penalty, 16-10; 80: Brownlee try, Tector conversion, 16-17.
France: M Auriac (Toulouse); J Joseph (Agen), E Gailleton (Agen), L Le Brun (Castres), E Reybier (Oyonnax); L Foursans-Bourdette (Montpellier), B Jauneau (Clermont Auvergne); M Perchaud (Bayonne), V Montgaillard (Perpignan), V Simutoga (Clermont Auvergne); S M'foudi (Perpignan), M Uhila (Montpellier); L Banos (Montauban), N Della Schiava (La Rochelle), M Suta (Provence).
Replacements: T Cretu (Stade Français) for Simutoga (36 mins), R Portat (Toulouse) for Suta (half-time), J Coulon (Toulon) for Uhila (half-time), L Martin (Provence) for Montgaillard (47 mins).
Ireland: P Campbell (Young Munster); A King (Clontarf), B Brownlee (UCD), D Hawkshaw (Clontarf), S Mallon (UCD); C Tector (Lansdowne), E Coughlan (Shannon); J Boyle (UCD), J McCormick (Ballymena), R McGuire (UCD); C O'Tighearnaigh (UCD), M Morrissey (UCD); J McNabney (Ballymena), R Crothers (Ballynahinch, capt), J Culhane (UCD).
Replacements: M Devine (Corinthians) for Coughlan (44 mins), D McSweeney (Shannon) for McGuire (64 mins), C Moloney (Young Munster) for McNabney (68 mins), A McNamee (Malone) for Morrissey (69 mins), D O'Grady (UCD) for Mallon (69 mins).
Referee: Hollie Davidson (Scotland)
Yellow card: S M'foudi (France) 76 mins.