5 Dec, 14:49
The Ireland U19 squad to face Australia Schools at Ravenhill on Saturday 14th December has been announced.
The huge and hostile home crowd raised a deafening din with their singing, chanting, stamping of feet and blowing of horns, but the atmosphere also lifted the Irish, who really rose to the occasion by magnificently matching their illustrious opponents for most of the first half in spite of the concession of an early try.
This French team had beaten England, who gave Ireland a 79-0 whipping at Worcester, but Suzanne Fleming's side played with great passion and pride, refusing to roll over and serve as mere cannon-fodder. France drove over from a lineout in the opening minutes, but didn't score again for the next half hour and, even then, it took repeated recycling and some great ball retention to enable them to breach the wall of green jerseys which had repelled wave after wave of attack from les bleus after Rosie Foley had been penalised for going over the top.
Left wing Annabel Donnadieu scored in the corner and, unfortunately, experienced scrumhalf Stephanie Provost was allowed to nip over for a third French try from a quickly taken tap penalty soon afterwards, with Estelle Sartini's conversion giving the hosts a rather flattering 17-0 advantage. That was ill-reward for Ireland's heroic efforts in the opening 40 minutes, led by the inimitable Fiona Steed, winning her 48th consecutive cap, and young fullback Sarahjane Belton, who again underlined her world class credentials. Belton fell just short with a penalty attempt from near the French 10 metre line early in the second period and the gallant girls in green held out superbly for the first quarter of an hour following the resumption with one incredible cover tackle in the corner from lock Anne-Marie McAllister summing up the Irish spirit. But second row Maylis Bonnin finally crashed over, opening the floodgates for a devastating burst of five tries in the next quarter of an hour to leave Donal O'Leary's team really facing down the barrel at 46-0. They dug deep though to finish with a flourish, showing some great defiance in largely dominating a scoreless last 10 minutes, before the champagne celebrations to mark a first ever Grand Chelem for les femmes Francais began.
Ireland finished at the opposite end of the table, but have undoubtedly made progress during their first full Six Nations campaign, with young players like Patrique Kelly and Jean Lonergan really coming of age in international terms and most of the side's senior figures fronting up well. Ireland SJ Belton (J Sparkes, 72 mins); F Neary (R Boyd, 67), P Kelly (R Tucker, 72), N Milne, S Fleming (capt); R Howell, K Eagleson; J Lonergan, E Collins (M Dolo, 72), M Coulter (E Coen, 59), R Foley (G McAllister, 72), A-M McAllister, R Reid (E Wessell, 67), M O'Loughlin, F Steed.