| 17.2°C Dublin

Irish turn Blue in defeat of France

IT is as simple and astonishing as this. There were 11 Leinster starters in the Ireland Schools side that scuppered France by two points (22-20) in the semi-final of the U18 European Championships for the second consecutive season.

Last year, the Irish managed to subdue a giant and heavily favoured England in the final to win the competition for the first time, and they will have to do the same again at Cuidad Universitaria in Madrid on Saturday afternoon.

"There is a physical imbalance. The English are typically huge and very well organised. That is what we are used to. The question for us is the emotional and physical recovery period is four days. That is the challenge," said Ireland forwards coach Paul Barr.

"Our boys are reared on knockout rugby. We have an advantage there when it comes to these kinds of matches. It is a common enough environment for our players."

The measure of the achievement to make a second final can be found in the fact that Wales, France and England enter their best U18 squads of players, all of whom have been involved with professional clubs, usually from the age of 15.


In contrast, the Irish players are gathered entirely from the schools system and always have to concede large amounts in preparation, weight and muscle to their opponents at this level.

Thus, the Irish had to use their intelligence, mobility, skill and pace to outmanoeuvre a French team which had a decided scrum advantage.

"In testament to our boys, they came from behind three times, including in the last 10 minutes, and we scored three tries to one, so I think we deserved to win it," said Barr.

Still, Crescent College All-Ireland sprinter Greg O'Shea found the time and space to raid the French line for a brace of tries in the 23rd and 37th minutes, and CBC Cork prop Charlie Slowey pinched the match-winning try on the hour.

Gonzaga fly-half Conor McKeon chipped in with seven points as the Irish put their bodies on the line to repel the French in a committed, controlled and disciplined defensive rearguard action. The English will bring more of the same on Saturday, in terms of muscle, organisation and speed. They have beaten Georgia (58-8) and Wales (22-16) and will want revenge for last year.

Ireland U18: B Dardis (Terenure); D Johnston (Rockwell), R O'Loughlin (St Michael's), H Brewer (Terenure), G O'Shea (Crescent); C McKeon (Gonzaga), B Holland (St Michael's); C Slowey (CBC Cork), M Abbott (PBC Cork), E McKeever (CBC Monkstown), R Molony (St Michael's), S O'Brien (Cistercian, Roscrea), R Maloney (Cistercian, Roscrea), D Leavy (St Michael's, capt), P Timmins (Clongowes Wood). Replacements: S Delahunt (Kilkenny) for McKeever 40 mins; D Donnellan (Clongowes Wood) for Abbott 42 mins; C O'Donnell (St Munchon's) for Dardis 63 mins.

France U18: N Metge; T Bouyxou, B Perrot, G Fickou, S Parez; S Dimitri, B Serin; O Ishchenko, R Ruffenach, A Rochet, A Iturria, J-B Singer, F Cros, Y Camara, F Lambey. Replacements: J Gardey for Bouyxou 22 mins; J Benhaim for Iturria 32 mins; J-B Lespinasse for Lambey 36 mins; R Molcard for Benhaim 42 mins; Y Amrouni for Ischenko 48 mins; B Andre for Ruffenach 57 mins; M Belguidoum for Gardey 62 mins; F Lambey for Dimitri 69 mins.

Referee: L Lynton, Scotland.