Thrilling Ireland U20s show potential with superb four-try win over France

Nigel Carolan’s side impressed in attack as man of the match Ross Byrne directed the show.

Ireland 37

France 20

Murray Kinsella reports from Dubarry Park

Garry Ringrose makes a break Ireland outside centre Garry Ringrose makes a first-half break. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

IF TOMORROW’S SENIOR Six Nations meeting between Ireland and France serves up half the excitement and skill level of this U20s encounter in Athlone, we’ll be well entertained.

Nigel Carolan’s talented Ireland side attacked at will with ball in hand against France during a 37-20 victory in Dubarry Park, the likes of man of the match Ross Byrne, Sam Arnold, Stephen Fitzgerald and Garry Ringrose thrilling the crowd on a dry, fresh night.

The flow of this fixture didn’t all go Ireland’s way, however, a stunning try from back row Sékou Macalou among the moments of impressive athleticism that kept France competitive throughout.

Indeed, a third-quarter patch in which Ireland were restricted to their own half might have caused some concern for Carolan and his coaching staff, but ultimately tries from Jack Owens, Fitzgerald, Ringrose and Billy Dardis, as well as Byrne’s 100% record off the tee were enough.

This is a hugely talented Ireland backline, who were provided with enough quality possession by Josh Murphy and the forward pack to prosper against a French back division that came into the game with an equally strong reputation.

This victory means Ireland have won two from two in the Six Nations so far, having dispatched Italy 47-15 last weekend, scoring seven tries in the act. They will host England in two weeks’ time with some confidence.

From the opening minute, Carolan’s young players looked to stretch France, showing their organisation with excellent two-tiered attacking shape in the middle of the pitch, out-half Byrne making good decisions on where to send his passes.

Ross Byrne kicks his side's first penalty Byrne was once again excellent at out-half. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

An early scrum penalty against French tighthead Michaël Simutoga allowed Byrne to find touch in the visitors’ 22, from where hooker Zac McCall threw to Lorcan Dow at the tail of the lineout and the Irish pack mauled.

Defenders sucked in, Byrne then released his backs by sending Arnold crashing into the heart of France’s defence, the 18-year-old deftly offloading to right wing Owens, who burst over the tryline for the opening score.

Byrne added the conversion and then a penalty when France failed to release in the tackle, providing Carolan’s side with a 10-0 cushion. That served to awaken the away side, as they hammered Ireland’s scrum shortly after and almost scored after a clever Elliot Roudil grubber.

France did get on the scoreboard inside the opening quarter as fullback Thomas Ramos slammed over a penalty, before an intelligent quick-tap from lively scrum-half Anthony Meric brought the French agonisingly close again.

Ireland continued to play enterprising rugby out of their own half, but the French had muscled their way into the encounter and produced a sublime try to level matters.

Second row bruiser Cyril Cazeaux robbed Nick McCarthy of possession in contact, wherafter the ball was spun to blindside flanker Macalou in the wide left channel and on the halfway line.

The Massy flanker, who has already earned nine Pro D2 starts, beat off the tackles of Dow, Jeremy Loughman and Owens, before sensationally arcing around Ireland fullback Dardis. An exceptional demonstration of Macalou’s athletic ability, converted by Ramos.

Ireland almost immediately replied with their second try, but Dardis spilled a lovely Ringrose offload over the line as the opportunity went astray. Undeterred, Carolan’s charges simply built again.

Steven Fitzgerald and Lucas Meret Stephen Fitzgerald sprinted home for a wonderful try. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Dow, Murphy and Loughman carried hard in the middle of the pitch, before Byrne freed Arnold to create. The inside centre this time drew his defender and slipped a lovely inside pass to Fitzgerald.

The former Ardscoil Rís schoolboy showed his pace to finish from 35 metres out, Byrne slotting the conversion from the right of the posts for 17-10. The out-half then added a second penalty just before half time to send Ireland into the break 20-10 up.

Ireland started where they had left off in the second half, Dardis crossing for their next try after more excellent playmaking from Byrne. The out-half ran a dummy switch with Arnold, then dropped a delicate pass back in to his fullback running a straightening line.

Dardis finished from close-range and Byrne tacked on the two additional points, leaving Ireland with a seemingly comfortable 27-10 advantage. France, however, found another strong response.

After the likes of Macalou and number eight Fabien Sanconnie had carried to within metres of the Ireland tryline, it was Simutoga who barrelled over for France’s second try, Ramos again converting.

As Ireland began to lose control of the momentum and struggled to get out of their own half, Ramos struck with another penalty to bring Fabien Pelous’ men to within seven points.

A lineout steal from the visitors with 64 minutes gone allowed their backline to threaten in the wide left channel, replacement centre Damian Penaud putting hearts in mouths for Irish supporters, but the Clermont man spilled in contact to relinquish possession.

After a raft of replacements, including the introduction of hometown favourite Cian Romaine, Ireland managed to regather their composure and began to earn the field position they needed to see out the win.

Fabien Sanconnie and Anthony Meric tackle Josh Murphy Josh Murphy makes a big carry in midfield. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Byrne’s assured strike from the tee from 40 metres out gave Ireland that crucial 10-point cushion again with 10 minutes remaining, before Garry Ringrose picked off a French pass to race clear for Ireland’s fourth try.

The Leinster academy centre had 60 metres to sprint after the intercept of Roudil’s intended pass to Penaud, but had little problem in finishing under the sticks to allow Byrne an easy conversion.

A happy final scoring act on a hugely encouraging evening for Ireland’s highly-talented U20 squad.

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Jack Owens, Stephen Fitzgerald, Billy Dardis, Garry Ringrose

Conversions: Ross Byrne [4 from 4]

Penalties: Ross Byrne [3 from 3]

France scorers:

Tries: Sékou Macalou, Michaël Simutoga

Conversions: Thomas Ramos [2 from 2]

Penalties: Thomas Ramos [2 from 2]

IRELAND U20: Billy Dardis, Jack Owens (Joey Carbery ’76), Garry Ringrose, Sam Arnold (Fergal Cleary ’63), Stephen Fitzgerald; Ross Byrne, Nick McCarthy (captain) (Jack Cullen ’76); Jeremy Loughman (Michael Lagan ’76), Zack McCall (Adam McBurney ’64), Oisin Heffernan (Conan O’Donnell ’57); David O’Connor (Cian Romaine ’65), Alex Thompson; Josh Murphy, Rory Moloney (Nick Timoney ’57), Lorcan Dow.

FRANCE U20: Thomas Ramos; Arthur Bonneval, Elliot Roudil, François Fontaine (Damian Penaud ’60), Lucas Blanc (Valentin Saurs ’63); Lucas Meret, Anthony Meric (Antoine Dupont ’60); Rodrigue Neti (Thibault Estorge ’46), Julien Marchand (Camille Chat ’38), Michaël Simutoga (Quentin Bethune ’70); Tristan Labouteley, Cyril Cazeaux (Julien Delannoy ’46); Sékou Macalou (Martin Devergie ’52), Lucas Bachelier, Fabien Sanconnié.

Referee: Craig Evans [WRU].

IRFU release statement stressing Sexton’s fitness for France clash

‘I have a lot to learn’ – Jack Conan knows what’s required for World Cup contention

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.