O'Brien stars as U-20s keep Grand Slam dream alive
Ireland U-20s 27-22 France U-20s
Ireland U-20s' Grand Slam dream is still very much alive as they held on to seal a hugely impressive win over France that keeps them on track for a St Patrick's Day showdown with England.
Questions had been asked about the forwards but they provided plenty of answers in Donnybrook last night as they dominated a French pack that weighed in considerably heavier.
Led by outstanding No 8 Caelan Doris, Ireland were much more physical in the close exchanges and consistently punched holes in their backline through Tommy O'Brien and Jordan Larmour's clever lines of running.
Ireland lost their third captain in three games inside three minutes when Calvin Nash was forced off after a nasty clash of heads with Ciaran Frawley, who unlike his skipper, passed his HIA and returned to the pitch.
Tadgh McElroy got the hosts off to a flying start against the run of play after quarter of an hour. Romain N'tamack's kick was blocked by Alex McHenry and when Larmour was just stopped short, hooker McElroy burrowed his way over.
Ireland gifted France a way back into the game shortly after when Joey Conway was pinged for not releasing and N'tamack, son of France legend Emile, put his side on the board.
That sparked Ireland into life again and two minutes later they hit back with a brilliant individual try from O'Brien.
Ireland dominated again at scrum time and when the impressive Doris fed O'Brien, it was all about his ingenuity as he raced through to collect his delicate grubber kick to score under the posts.
Bill Johnston added the easy extras and did so again just shy of the hour mark when Oisin Dowling scored an opportunist try when the ball squirted loose in a French scrum.
That put Ireland into a 21-3 lead, but France's live-wire scrum-half Arthur Retiere hauled the visitors back into it.
Retiere, who has featured regularly with high flying LA Rochelle in the Top 14 this season, counter-attacked brilliantly and bamboozled four defenders. The ball was recycled and Faraj Fartass got over in the corner.
N'tamack converted to leave his side trailing 21-10 at the break but Johnston's early second-half penalty kept the scoreboard ticking over.
Fartass' second try on the hour mark had been coming and N'tamack's missed conversion left his side trailing 24-15. When replacement Sean Masterson was sin binned, France sensed blood and were rightly awarded a penalty try.
N'tamack's conversion cut the gap to two points with eight minutes left but Ireland kept their composure and went down the other end of the pitch and won a crucial penalty that Johnston coolly kicked to clinch the victory.
Ireland - R Lyttle (J Lyons 53-59); J Larmour, T O'Brien, C Frawley (C Fitzgerald 7-12), C Nash (capt,A McHenry 3, C Fitzgerald 52); B Johnston, J Stewart; J Conway, T McElroy (R Kelleher 54), C Connolly (P Cooper 66); R Regan, O Dowling (S Masterson 62); M Rea (G Coombes 54), P Boyle, C Doris.
France - R Buros; F Fartass, P L Barassi (T Millet 62), T Dachary, W Iraghua; R N'tamack (A Fuertes 74), A Retiere (B Couilloud 63); K Tonugne (F Dufour h-t), E Fourcade (L Aouf h-t), T Laclayat (K Geraci h-t); F Verhaeghe (capt) (K Geracy 78), M Capelli; K Cretin, J Ruaud (C Woki h-t), A Roumat.
Ref - T Foley (RFU)