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Dublin: 4°C Sunday 16 May 2021

Ireland U20s hold out after second-half Six Nations scare against France

Nigel Carolan’s men remain second in the table behind England.

Ireland 27

France 22

Murray Kinsella reports from Donnybrook

NIGEL CAROLAN’S IRELAND U20s made it three wins from three in the Six Nations with a win over France in Dublin, but the victory came in far less comfortable circumstances than had looked likely in the first half.

Having raced into a 21-3 lead after just 30 minutes, with Tadgh McElroy, Tommy O’Brien, and Oisin Dowling scoring tries, Ireland might have expected to push on and earn a try-scoring bonus point.

Tommy O’Brien celebrates scoring his sides second try with Jordan Larmour, Jonny Stewart and Robert Lyttle Ireland had to fight hard for the win in the end. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

With returning out-half Bill Johnston pulling the strings at 10, number eight Caelan Doris carrying powerfully, right wing Jordan Larmour in superb form and O’Brien adding touches of class, Ireland were in fine shape.

But they allowed France to score through wing Faraj Fartass just before the break and it was the visitors who were the better team after half-time, fighting back to within two points heading into the closing 10 minutes.

In the end, Ireland had enough to extend their lead with a Johnston penalty – he was 100% off the tee – but head coach Carolan might have been disappointed with their control of a game they had dominated for much of the first half. Still, it required grit from Ireland to seal the deal and they had the resolve.

Ireland have now won all three of their Six Nations games so far, keeping them second in the table. With England recording a third consecutive bonus-point victory over Italy, Carolan’s side trail them by three match points.

Ireland were unfortunate to lose captain Calvin Nash after just four minutes of this game, as he came off the worse in a clash of heads with team-mate Ciaran Frawley, who passed his HIA. Openside flanker Paul Boyle took over the captaincy and impressed.

The disruption meant Ireland took time to settle, with the brilliant Arthur Retière’s sniping game causing trouble, but they were on the scoreboard in the 15th minute after replacement centre Alex McHenry blocked down an attempted clearance by 17-year-old France out-half Romain N’Tamack, the son of Toulouse legend Emile.

When Ireland recycled the recovered possession, Leinster wing Larmour broke impressively off a Johnston pass, before hooker McElroy picked and jammed over from a close-range ruck, with Johnston converting for 7-0.

N’Tamack slotted a penalty to bring France onto the scoreboard, but Ireland had a second try before 25 minutes were played.

Tommy O’Brien scores his side's second try Tommy O'Brien crosses for this first-half try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Doris hit O’Brien – relocated from outside centre to the left wing by Nash’s injury – with a short pass from a scrum in the France 22 and the UCD man grubbered in behind the defence, gathering his own kick to dive over for an impressive solo score.

Johnston converted that try and Ireland’s third in the 30th minute, with his break taking Carolan’s men to within inches of the tryline, before Larmour’s pass was ruled forward. The dominant Ireland scrum cause havoc, however, and lock Dowling was able to opportunistically dot down after French panic ensued around the loose ball.

Ireland were cruising, but that man Retière – in his third year at this level – conjured another moment of magic to lay the platform for France’s first try.

He gathered in a loose exit kick from Rob Lyttle and burst through the tackles of Frawley and Jonny Stewart, before beating Johnston all ends up with his footwork. Though he was hauled down metres short, France were calm and eventually worked the ball wide left for Fartass to score, ensuring a 21-10 scoreline at the break.

Larmour was in rampant form after half-time, making three breaks in quick succession, the third of which earned Ireland a penalty that Johnston slotted to extend the lead to 14 points.

But Ireland simply couldn’t put the French away and they even required a try-saving tackle from O’Brien on the lively French right wing William Iraguha in the 53rd minute.

Any expectation the French would tire did not come to pass, as they grew into the game and pummelled into position for their second try as the game entered the final quarter.

Caelan Doris and Florian Dufour Caelan Doris carried well for Ireland again. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The forward pack carried impressively, before Retière swung a pass to Fartass wide on the left. He stretched through a tackle to dot down and, though the grounding didn’t look certain at first sight, referee Tom Foley was happy to award it.

Iraguha broke again down the right soon after, with Ireland replacement Sean Masterson – on for his debut – making a rash decision to play the ball on the ground and earning a yellow card for his troubles.

The French scrum finally came to life and knocked at the door until Ireland cracked and Foley headed under the posts for a penalty try, converted by N’Tamack to leave the French trailing 24-22 with nine minutes remaining.

France attempted to run out of their 22 in haste, however, with the ball coming off Fartass’ foot after a loose pass and replacement scrum-half Baptiste Couilloud picked it up in an offside position.

Johnston made no mistake from the tee and Ireland closed out the win, much to the relief of the Donnybrook crowd.

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Tadgh McElroy, Tommy O’Brien, Oisin Dowling

Conversions: Bill Johnston [3 from 3]

Penalties: Bill Johnston [2 from 2]

France scorers:

Tries: Faraj Fartass [2], Penalty try

Conversions: Romain N’Tamack [2 from 3]

Penalties: Romain N’Tamack [1 from 1]

IRELAND U20: Rob Lyttle (HIA – Jack Lyons ’54 to ’59); Jordan Larmour, Tommy O’Brien, Ciaran Frawley (HIA – Conor Fitzgerald ’8 to ’12), Calvin Nash (captain) (Alex McHenry ’3 (Conor Fitzgerald ’52)); Bill Johnston, Johnny Stewart; Joey Conway, Tadgh McElroy (Ronan Kelleher ’55), Charlie Connolly (Peter Cooper ’66); Jack Regan (Gavin Coombes ’55), Oisin Dowling (Sean Masterson ’62 (yellow card ’65)); Marcus Rea, Paul Boyle, Caelan Doris.

Replacement not used: Rory Mulvihill.

FRANCE U20: Romain Buros; Faraj Fartass, Pierre-Louis Barassi (Theo Millet ’62), Theo Dachary, William Iraghua; Romain N’Tamack (Anthony Fuertes ’75), Arthur Retiere (Baptiste Couilloud ’64); Kevin Tougne (Florian Dufour ‘HT), Etienne Fourcade (Leo Aouf ‘HT), Thomas Laclayat (Georges-Henri Colombe ‘HT); Florian Verhaeghe (captain) (Killian Geraci ’78), Mickael Capelli; Dylan Cretin, Julien Ruaud (Cameron Woki “HT), Alexandre Roumat.

Referee: Tom Foley [IRFU].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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