Tuesday 19 March 2019

Ireland U-20s eye Grand Slam after clinching Six Nations title

Ireland U-20s 31 France U-20s 29

Captain Charlie Ryan celebrates Ireland’s U-20 Six Nations triumph at Irish Independent park last night. Photo: Sportsfile
Captain Charlie Ryan celebrates Ireland’s U-20 Six Nations triumph at Irish Independent park last night. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The Ireland U-20s are Six Nations champions for the first time since 2010, but more importantly the Grand Slam dream is alive. They will travel to Wales on Friday knowing that victory would secure a first Grand Slam in 12 years.

That they have the chance to do so is down to another immense performance that saw them topple current world champions France in front of a raucous 8,008 sold-out crowd at Irish Independent Park.

Having begun their campaign with a stunning victory over England in Cork, Ireland have since gone from strength to strength and this was the latest evidence of a team that is littered with stars of the future.

Reputations went out the window as Ireland overturned a French side who boast several players who regularly play in the Top 14.

Sean French of Ireland in action against Louis Carbonel of France. Photo: Sportsfile
Sean French of Ireland in action against Louis Carbonel of France. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland had outstanding performers all over the pitch. Ben Healy ran the show from out-half and was helped by another electric display from Craig Casey.

Sean French provided the X-factor, but the backs had their tireless pack to thank for setting the platform.

Man-of-the-match Josh Wycherley scored a try in either half and was part of a front-row that stood up to the French power.

Scott Penny was everywhere with John Hodnett carrying relentlessly all evening.

Sean French of Ireland is tackled by France's Gauthier Maravat. Photo: Sportsfile
Sean French of Ireland is tackled by France's Gauthier Maravat. Photo: Sportsfile

An early Healy penalty settled any nerves as Ireland opened up a 3-0 lead after just four minutes, before Niall Murray did brilliantly to haul down Paul Boudehent short of the line.

A scintillating French break delighted the home crowd as his dancing feet created the opening try shortly after.

A sumptuous offload saw French link brilliantly with Healy as the two players who were drafted into the starting XV made an immediate impact.

Ireland stayed patient in the France 22 with Wycherley powering over from close range for a fine score.

Healy's conversion stretched the lead to 10-0 and that sparked Les Bleus into life. Louis Carbonel was one of France's key men in last year's World Cup and as the Toulon out-half grew in confidence, so too did his team-mates.

The game was still only 15 minutes old when Jean-Baptiste Gros, another player back from last year, collected Jordan Joesph's offload and dotted down.

Carbonel added the extras and did so again 11 minutes later after he scored a try of his own.

Suddenly Ireland trailed for the first time but to their credit they stuck to the task and Healy fired over a penalty from 40 metres to leave the score at 14-13 as the game moved towards half-time.

Ireland might have gone into the break in front as another searing French break had the visiting defence scrambling, only this time they couldn't take advantage.

As it was, however, Noel McNamara's charges only had to wait six minutes of the second half to retake the lead, Healy's penalty making it 16-14.

France, though, hit back immediately via a Carbonel penalty.

Ryan Baird was on the pitch a matter of seconds before he made his presence felt with a powerful carry. Healy then punished France's indiscipline for a 19-17 advantage.

Ireland sensed blood and upped the tempo, before Wycherley burrowed over for his second score of the night. Healy made no mistake with the conversion to open up a nine-point gap (26-17).

Carbonel hauled France back into the contest when he ran clear from inside his own half for his second try.

But back came Ireland again. This time it was Healy's break that created the spark. Casey did well to recycle the ball and while he injured himself in the process, he set the platform for Callum Reid to crash over for a third try.

There was barely time for anyone to catch their breath as Ireland led 31-22 with 12 minutes left.

France ensured that it was a nervy finish but Maxence Lemardeley's converted try was too little too late as Ireland clinched the title and set up a shot at history in Wales.

Ireland U-20s - J Flannery (R Russell 66-73); A Kernohan (Russell 73), L Turner, S French, J Wren; B Healy, C Casey (C Foley 69); J Wycherley (C Reid 39-h-t, 66), D Tierney-Martin (J McKee 66), T Clarkson; C Ryan (capt), N Murray (R Baird 52); M Moloney, S Penny, J Hodnett.

France U-20s - A De Nardi; V Pinto, A Vincent (capt), S Delbouis (M Smaili 66), M Lebel; L Carbonel, Q Delord (K Viallard 75); J-P Gros (E Eglaine 55), R Barka (L Zarantonello 66), A Burin (G Beria 55); G Maravat, F Vanverberghe (A Warion 66); P Boudehent ( M Lemardelet 46), S Zegueur, J Joseph.

REF - A Leal (England).

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