The France U20 team. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
final hurdle

What the Ireland U20s can expect from World Cup final opponents France

The two sides go head-to-head in Cape Town on Friday.

TOMORROW IS THE big day for the Ireland U20s as Richie Murphy’s side take on France in the U20 World Championship final.

It’s set to be a highly-entertaining clash as two sides who have lit up the tournament face-off in Cape Town – Ireland overcoming extreme adversity to book their place in the decider, while France have steamrolled their way into the final with a series of high-scoring wins.

Here, we take a look at what Ireland can expect from France at Athlone Sports Stadium tomorrow [KO 6pm Irish time, Virgin Media Two] as a brilliant U20 World Cup comes to a close. 

Route to the final:

France have been very impressive on their run to tomorrow’s decider, blowing teams out of the water with a series of dominant displays. They opened their World Cup campaign in devastating fashion, running in 11 tries on their way to a 75-12 thrashing of Japan.

In round two, they built on that strong start with a superb display against New Zealand, storming into a 21-0 lead by half-time and going on to win 35-14. France then closed out their group campaign by beating Wales 43-19, where again, they did most of the damage in the first half, leading 24-7 at the break. 

In the semi-finals, France faced England – who finished second to Ireland in Pool B – and notched up another big score after a slow start. Having fallen 17-0 down in the opening 15 minutes, France hit back in remarkable fashion, scoring seven tries on their way to a 52-31 win. 

Previous meetings:

Ireland and France face-off every year in the U20 Six Nations, and this year’s fixture was a cracker. France ran in five tries at Musgrave Park, but a late penalty from Sam Prendergast saw Ireland record a thrilling two-point win (33-31) to keep their Grand Slam ambitions alive.

frances-posolo-tuilagi-is-tackled-by-englands-rekeiti-maasi-white-during-the-u20s-six-nations-match-at-the-recreation-ground-bath-picture-date-friday-march-10-2023 France’s Posolo Tuilagi. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Paddy McCarthy, Hugh Gavin and Brian Gleeson all crossed for Ireland, but Prendergast’s nerveless display from the tee – missing just one of eight attempts at goal – and his composure with ball in hand proved the story of the night.

Ireland went on to claim wins against Italy, Scotland and England to seal the Grand Slam, and Richie Murphy’s side remain the only team to beat France this year.

The French squad have spoken about using this final to claim revenge for the Six Nations result, but this Ireland team will hold no fear against an opponent they know well, with Ireland having won two of the three most recent meetings between the sides.

Players to watch:

Posolo Tuilagi has rightly been grabbing headlines recently, and the 145kg lock is an absolute powerhouse in the heart of a big French pack. While he’s still only 18, Tuilagi has had plenty of exposure to top level rugby this year, featuring 16 times for Perpignan across the Top 14 and Challenge Cup. 

A nephew of England international Manu, Tuilagi debuted for the France U20s in the Six Nations earlier this year and has looked dominant at U20 level, with his standout performance in this championship coming in the round two defeat of New Zealand, where he burst through the All Blacks defence for two tries.

Versatile back Nicolas Depoortere has also looked dangerous, scoring two tries against both Japan and Wales. Another man with Top 14 experience – playing 12 times for Bordeaux this season – Depoortere has started at centre and on the wing at this tournament, and will line out wearing the 13 jersey against Ireland, where he looks at his most influential.

nicolas-depoortere France's Nicolas Depoortere. Evan Treacy / INPHO Evan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Marko Gazzotti is a powerful ball-carrier at number eight who can really move when he gets his legs pumping, and led the French charge in the semi-final comeback win against England. 

Out-half Hugo Reus has looked cool under pressure throughout, which is perhaps no surprise considering he’s learning from Ronan O’Gara at La Rochelle. His half-back partner, 19-year-old scrum-half Baptiste Jauneau, already has Champions Cup experience to his name, and featured 30 times for Clermont across all competitions last season. 


France love this competition, and are looking to become only the second nation to win three U20 World Championship titles in a row, having won the last two editions in 2018 and 2019.

As with any France side, they like to play with ball in hand and Ireland will strive to ensure the game doesn’t get too loose. Yet like Ireland, France are far from a one-dimensional side and they also have some devastating ball-carriers, with their maul very effective in difficult conditions against New Zealand.

Capable to putting up big scores, France were the top try-scorers at the of the group stages, having clocked up 22 tries (Ireland were next best with 17). The fact that so many of their players are already getting exposure to the cut and thrust of the Top 14 is an obvious advantage.

There haven’t been too many faults in their game, but the French coaches did feel their exit strategies were an issue against England, even if the wind played a role in that.

Yet discipline has been the most pressing issue. Having received seven yellow cards in the Six Nations, the French coaches were keen to see their record improve in this tournament, but the pool stages were a disaster in that regard – with France picking up two yellow cards against Japan, two yellows against New Zealand and a yellow and a red against Wales. 

Having averaged 17 penalties in the Six Nations, they had cut that number down to 11 before the England game, and to keep 15 men on the field for the duration of that semi-final win was viewed as one of the most pleasing aspects of the performance. Cool heads could prove decisive against Ireland.

Head coach:

France coach Sébastien Calvet has said he is expecting a high-tempo match against Ireland, so has picked a matchday 23 with that in mind. While the starting 15 is unchanged from the England game, Calvet has opted for a 5:3 split on the bench, having gone for a 6:2 split for the semi-final.

The France coach has been talking Ireland up throughout the week, while revealing his team have based their prep for the final around the second-half of that thrilling Six Nations clash in Cork earlier this year.

“Ireland’s advantage is that they’re a team that works on continuity,” Calvet said.

I don’t think there will be any surprises for them as far as we’re concerned, and there won’t be any surprises for us either.

“It’s really going to be a duel of project versus project, efficiency versus efficiency. When you’re preparing for a final, you work on all your strong points. And that second half [against Ireland in the Six Nations], despite the penalties, was still a half where we had the momentum, where we could have won the game.

“So yes, we’ve based our preparations for this match mainly on the second half of the game in Ireland, and we feel we have all the tools we need to worry them, to win this game.”

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