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France sweep to bonus-point win on a tough night for the Ireland U20s

Riche Murphy’s men struggled to compete with a superb French team.

France's Nicolas Depoortère breaks away to score.
France's Nicolas Depoortère breaks away to score.
Image: Ben Brady/INPHO

France 42

Ireland 21

RICHIE MURPHY’S IRELAND U20s came into this Summer Series in Italy with the well-earned tag of Grand Slam winners but the truth is that this is a very different team to the one that swept to Six Nations glory.

Injuries have decimated Murphy’s group, meaning 15 new faces in the 31-man squad for this trip. Key men like Patrick Campbell, Jack Boyle, Charlie Tector, and James Culhane are among those missing.

And so, it wasn’t a huge surprise that France had too much quality for the Irish on a sweltering evening in Verona, with the temperature still at 27°C for the 8pm kick-off at the Payanini Centre.

Back in February, Ireland beat France 17-16 in Aix-en-Provence on their way to the Slam, but only seven of that same team started again in Italy today.

While the superb French notched a five-try bonus-point win in Verona and also had three other possible scores chalked off – all of them correctly ruled out – there were some signs of Irish grit as they bagged three tries of their own through wing Aitzol King, centre Fionn Gibbons, and a penalty try at the maul.

Murphy will have been pleased too with the impact of an inexperienced Irish bench, several players making their U20 international debuts, but this was a tough night for his side as they opened their Series with a big defeat.

Ireland now look towards another daunting challenge in next Wednesday’s clash against South Africa, who started their Series with an impressive 30-22 win over England earlier today.

rueben-crothers-and-emilien-gailleton-lead-their-teams-out Reuben Crothers leads Ireland out in Verona. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

Ireland were under pressure from early on against the French as a string of penalty concessions allowed them to camp out in the Irish 22, concluding with the French pack taking the Irish scrum apart at scrum time to allow fullback Max Auriac to fire over the opening three points off the tee. 

Auriac missed with his second shot from another scrum penalty but France scored their first try on the very next passage. Deft hands from number eight Killian Tixeront sent out-half Léo Barré on a darting half-break and he offloaded one-handed back inside for lock Léo Labarthe to race clear with an impressive turn of pace. 

Auriac converted and France had a 10-0 lead at the first water break on 16 minutes.

They didn’t let up from there, scoring a stunning second try from inside their own half soon after. Bordeaux wing sensation Louis Bielle-Biarrey released outstanding captain Émilien Gailleton down the left with a clever step and return pass before Gailleton played a one-two with centre partner Nicolas Depoortère to finish a sweeping effort that Auriac converted again.

Ireland were in trouble at 17-0 but a yellow card for Samuel M’Foudi gave them some respite. It could have been red as the France lock tipped Ireland centre Daniel Hawkshaw over onto his head and neck in a tackle. Referee Adriaan Jacobs felt Hawkshaw had “contributed” and that it hadn’t been a malicious tackle, so M’Foudi was binned.

Ireland’s attack was still poor, though, and France nearly bagged a superb third try through Gailleton only for the score to be ruled out on TMO review for a forward pass by Auriac. 

aitzol-king-scores-a-try Aitzol King scores for Ireland. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

Ireland finally hit back just before M’Foudi returned. A big hit from centre George Coomber, on temporarily for Hawkshaw, gained some momentum for Murphy’s side and they were soon down in the French 22 battering at the tryline.

It took a smart decision and sharp pass from scrum-half Ethan Coughlan to send right wing King over on a clever line under the posts, with out-half Tony Butler adding the conversion.

Ireland were under more pressure just before the break on account of a lineout failure and another penalty concession, but they held out as France flanker Noé Della Schiava was pinged for running in to get involved in a bout of push-and-shove.

Trailing 17-7, Ireland looked like they had conceded early in the second half as Gailleton crossed again but he was denied for the second time by the TMO review, which showed that Bielle-Biarrey had knocked-on in the build-up.

Auriac did extend their advantage with his second successful penalty shot in the 46th minute, and they had their third try very soon after as Depoortère scorched home from inside his own half, breaking through the Irish defence all too easily from a simple scrum attack but showing impressive pace and a nice step to seal the deal.

fionn-gibbons-is-tackled-by-nicolas-depoortere The French centres were influential. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

Auriac added the extras after that try and then popped over another penalty just before the 57th-minute water break.

The French thought they had scored immediately upon the resumption when replacement wing Gatien Masse swerved away from a quickly-taken lineout but yet another TMO review showed that Ireland’s restart hadn’t gone out on the full and so, the French lineout was taken ahead of the mark. 

Ireland showed their grit to muscle their way to a second try in the 65th minute as their forwards earned a penalty try with their close-range mauling efforts, referee Jacobs yellow-carding Jules Coulon for his infringement in collapsing it.

The 30-14 scoreline at that stage wasn’t a true reflection of the difference in quality between the sides but France notched their bonus-point try five minutes later when sub hooker Victor Montgaillard powered over off a potent five-metre maul.

Ireland refused to let up, though, and replacement scrum-half Michael Moloney hit centre Gibbons with a pass a few metres out from the tryline, allowing the Munster-bound midfielder to show his power by barging over for their third score.

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Murphy’s men worked their way into the France 22 with two minutes left but couldn’t find the try that would have given them a point point and the French countered all the way down to the other end to score their brilliant fifth through Victor Montgaillard.

France scorers:

Tries: Leo Labarthe, Émilien Gailleton, Nicolas Depoortère, Victor Montgaillard [2]

Conversions: Max Auriac [4 from 4], Mateo Garcia [0 from 1]

Penalties: Max Auriac [3 from 4]

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Aitzol King, Penalty try, Fionna Gibbons

Conversions: Tony Butler [1 from 1], Sam Prendergast [1 from 1]

FRANCE: Max Auriac; Ethan Randle (Gatien Masse ’33), Émilien Gailleton (captain), Nicolas Depoortere, Louis Bielle-Biarrey; Leo Barre (Mateo Garcia ’60), Baptiste Jauneau (Simon Tarel ’59); Thomas Moukoro (Pierre-Emmanuel Pacheco ’46), Connor Sa (Victor Montgaillard ’56), Eliott Yemsi (Robin Bellemand ’48); Samuel M’Foudi (yellow card ’22) (Malohi Suta ’67), Leo Labarthe (Raphael Portat ’42); Noé Della Schiava (Leo Banos ’60), Maxime Baudonne, Killian Tixeront (Jules Coulon ’40 (yellow card ’66)).

Replacement not used: Emile Dayral

IRELAND: Dylan O’Grady; Aitzol King, Fionn Gibbons, Daniel Hawkshaw (HIA – George Coomber ’21 to ’31) (Reece Malone ’78), Shay McCarthy (George Coomber ’56); Tony Butler (Sam Prendergast ’48), Ethan Coughlan (Michael Moloney ’59); Oisin Michel (George Hadden ’48), James McCormick (Josh Hanlon ’53), Darragh McSweeney (Kieran Ryan ’48); Conor O’Tighearnaigh (Charlie Irvine ’59), Adam McNamee (Diarmuid Mangan ’59); James McNabney, Reuben Crothers (captain) (Ronan O’Sullivan ’56), Lorcan McLoughlin (George Shaw ’70).

Referee:  Adriaan Jacobs [SARU]. 

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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