Ireland Under-20s show real flair to end French winning streak in Athlone
Nigel Carolan’s men laid down a championship marker at Dubarry Park last night as they held off the strong challenge of champions France to record their second big win of the campaign.
They ran in four tries to two for France as Nigel Carolan’s men backed up their opening weekend 47-15 win over Italy with another huge display.
They will now turn their attention to hosting England in two weeks in what could be a title decider but they will approach that match with confidence high after carving out victory in an entertaining contest.
The French twice came from behind to trim big Ireland leads and cut a 17-point deficit to a converted try going into the final quarter but Ireland then regrouped to equal their biggest win over the French in the competition, a 22-5 success in Athlone two years ago.
But that win was achieved against a vastly inferior side to that which Fabien Pelous fielded last night, with four of the starting 15 having played in the Top 14 and another two having seen action in this season’s European Challenge Cup.
Ireland could hardly have asked for a better start as they raced into a 10-0 lead after just 11 minutes with out-half Ross Byrne again outstanding.
Quick hands from half-backs Nick McCarthy and Byrne put centre Sam Arnold through and he timed his pass to perfection to unleash winger Jack Owens for an excellent try.
Byrne, having converted six from seven last week in Italy, slotted the extras and then added a penalty from 30 metres in front of the posts before the French finally opened their shoulders and got into the game.
Full-back Thomas Romas got the French off the mark with a penalty and then a surging run from impressive flanker Sekou Macalou, after he got through the tackles around halfway of Lorcan Dow and Jeremy Loughman, saw him run all the way in for a magnificent try which showed why every Top 14 club in France is chasing him.
Romas converted but Ireland responded superbly to the challenge and while Billy Dardis was denied a try after a good run by centre Garry Ringrose when skipper Lucas Bachelier did well to get back.
But the reprieve was short for the French and another superb break by 18-year-old Sam Arnold sent winger Stephen Fitzgerald over for an excellent score, with Byrne converting and then kicking a penalty to make it 20-10 at the break.
Ireland extended the lead four minutes after the restart when a superb dummy by Byrne and an excellently timed run by Dardis saw the full-back go over with the conversion from the out-half making it 27-10 after 44 minutes.
But from there to the end it was a rearguard action as the French came at Ireland in waves.
They reduced the deficit to seven points through the boot of Romas and a try from prop Michael Simutoga going into the final quarter. But Ireland finished strongly. Byrne, who finished with six kicks from six having missed just one from seven the previous week, kept his nerve to put ten between them with a penalty and then Garry Ringrose intercepted to wrap it up in the dying moments after a thrilling contest.
Ireland – B Dardis; J Owens (J Carbery 74), G Ringrose, S Arnold (F Cleary 67), S Fitzgerald; R Byrne, N McCarthy (J Cullen 74); J Loughman (M Lagan 74), Z McCall (A McBurney 66), O Heffernan (C O’Donnell 58); D O’Connor (C Romaine 68), A Thompson; J Murphy, R Moloney (N Timoney 58), L Dow.
France – T Romas; A Bonneval, E Roudil, F Fontaine (D Penaud 63), L Blanc; L Meret, A Meric (A Dupont 60); R Neti (T Estorge 49), J Marchand (C Chat 39), M Simutoga (Q Bethune 73); T Labouteley, C Cazeaux (J Delannoy 49); S Macalou (M Devergue 52), L Bachelier, F Sanconnie.
Ref – C Evans (Wales)