Ireland U20s 31 – 29 France U20s
Ireland are just 80 minutes away from securing a historic Grand Slam as they produced a brave performance to beat a much-fancied French side 31-29 at Irish Independent Park in Cork.
Tonight’s win has already secured the championship for Ireland and a Grand Slam will come with it if they can beat Wales next weekend.
Indiscipline from France allowed Ireland to get an early foothold into the game. Out-half Ben Healy was on the receiving end of a late tackle which allowed him to kick Ireland into the French 22 from the resulting penalty.
The visitors were soon pinged for offside and this allowed Healy to put Ireland 3-0 in front after just three minutes on the clock with a shot at goal.
France were incredibly dangerous throughout this game and with just six minutes on the clock, Paul Boudehart broke through the Irish defence to bring play deep into the Ireland 22. A penalty advantage ensued which was kicked to the corner.
Thankfully for Ireland, France knocked the ball on with the line at their mercy and the capacity crowd in Cork breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Ireland then extended their lead thanks to a try from Josh Wycherley, younger brother of Munster’s Fineen.
The loosehead prop powered over from close range after the exciting Sean French made a huge break when he received a lovely flat pass from Jake Flannery. Healy converted to give Ireland a 10-0 lead.
However, France hit back almost immediately when Jean-Baptiste Gros went over after an offload from the powerful Jordan Joseph who was brought down at the last second by a tap-tackle. A conversion put just three points between the teams but then France took the lead with their second try of the game.
A period of sustained pressure in the Ireland 22 saw the ball moved down the short side and Louis Carbonel received an inside pass to waltz over the Irish line in what was a try which the home side will be disappointed with how they defended.
Ireland made it a one-point game when Healy landed another three points after the visitors went in off their feet at the ruck.
Just before halftime, Ireland breathed a huge sigh of relief.
A scintillating break from France brought play just metres from the Irish line. The ball was moved wide until a delightful grubber kick was put through for Alexandre de Nardi. All the fullback had to do was ground the ball but the bounce got the better of him and he knocked it on.
A French forward pass at the beginning of the second half gave Ireland prime real estate in their opponents 22.
The home side went through numerous phases just inches from the line but an attempted grounding was eventually deemed to be held up so the referee went back for an Irish penalty in the build-up.
Ireland opted to go for the posts and three points from the boot of Healy put Ireland into a 16-14 lead with seven minutes of the second-half played.
France retook the lead when a mistake from Ireland in their own 22 saw the ball go forward. The resulting scrum yielded a French penalty which was kicked over the posts by Carbonel.
A clearing kick from France which found touch in the Ireland half was put back into play quickly by the home side and this resulted in scrum-half Craig Casey producing an excellent break to get his team on the front foot. Just metres from the French line, Ireland won a penalty which Healy converted to give Ireland a two-point lead after 55 minutes.
Four minutes later, Ireland took a nine-point lead when Wycherley got his second try of the game when he barged over from a metre out. The move began from a scrum set piece inside the French 22 and France will be annoyed that it came from a forward pass when they tried to run the ball out of their own half.
Carbonel got a try back for France after a length of the field breakaway move. It was a cruel bit of luck for Ireland as an Irish boot dislodged the ball from a ruck as they were attacking in the France 22. The visitors reacted quickest to the ball spilling out and put the ball through the hands to race clear.
Carbonel’s conversion went to the right of the posts so Ireland had a 26-22 lead with less than 15 minutes remaining.
Ireland atoned for that earlier error by hitting back with a try straight away. A break from Healy was followed by a further break from Casey and the Limerick scrum-half was brought down just short of the line. Callum Reid, who had just come on as a replacement, grounded the ball on the next phase to give Ireland a 31-22 lead with 10 minutes left on the clock.
Unfortunately for Casey, he suffered a leg injury when he was tackled at the line which put a premature end to his night after a superb performance.
France managed to get a try just before full-time which put two points between the sides but Ireland turned the ball over on the last play of the game to secure an incredible victory.
Ireland: Jake Flannery, Angus Kernohan, Liam Turner, Sean French, Jonathan Wren, Ben Healy, Craig Casey, Josh Wycherley, Dylan Tierney-Martin, Tom Clarkson, Charlie Ryan, Niall Murray, Martin Moloney, Scott Penny, Josh Hodnett.
Replacements: John McKee, Callum Reid, Ryan Lomas, Ryan Baird, David McCann, Cormac Foley, Rob Russell, James McCarthy.