A "massive effort" was not quite enough for Ireland to beat a physical French side in their IRB Under-19 World Championship clash in Dubai on Saturday.
IRB U-19 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP: DIVISION A: Sunday, April 9
FRANCE 26 IRELAND 18, Exiles RFC, Dubai
Scorers: France: Tries: Jean Monribot, Yoann Huget, Cyriak Ponnau; Con: Mathieu Belie; Pens: Morgan Parra 2, Belie
Ireland: Tries: Sean Carey, Conor McInerney; Con: Brian Collins; Pens: Collins 2
The presence of Leinster and Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll could not quite inspire Charlie McAleese's Under-19 side to a famous win at Exiles RFC as France finished with a flourish to clinch their second successive Division A win.
O'Driscoll took his place in the main stand as the Irish tried to follow up on their superb one-point defeat of their English counterparts. And although France were thoroughly tested by Ireland, les Bleus withstood a real battering to underline their title credentials in some style and also deny their opponents a deserved bonus point with a converted try, deep into injury-time.
Ireland made a rousing start, dominating the opening exchanges, and were first on the board when patient phase play produced a try wide on the left for Garbally College full-back Sean Carey after an excellent pass from centre Ian Keatley of UCD.
France gradually began to establish a foothold in the game and drew level when skipper Jean Monribot muscled over from a quickly taken five-metre penalty. Number 10 Morgan Parra then slotted a 15-metre penalty to edge France in front for the first time but Ireland, competing well up front, drew level with a Brian Collins penalty from 25 metres before Parra sent France in with a 11-8 half-time lead thanks to a superb strike 30 metres from out wide on the left.
Castleknock kicker Collins retaliated with a magnificent 45-metre penalty, three minutes into the second period, as Ireland threw everything they had into attack.
Yet it was France who were next on the board - winger Yoann Huget somehow squeezing over in the corner after Alexis Palisson switched the direction of an attack with a superb long 'miss' pass.
Ireland's reaction was to claim a try of their own - UCD lock Conor McInerney being smuggled over from a catch-and-drive move wide on the left. And Collins added the extras with a quite magnificent conversion for 18-16 to Ireland.
France battled back up field and the lead changed hands for the fourth time when Mathieu Belie landed a 15-metre penalty. And it was France who ended the game on top - denying Ireland the bonus point for their efforts when replacement Cyriak Ponnau was worked over for a try on the left, Belie adding the extras.
France complete the pool stages against Argentina in Dubai on Thursday, while Ireland take on Samoa in Sharjah on the same afternoon (Sharjah Wanderers ground, kick-off 5.00pm Irish time).
FRANCE: Mathieu Belie; Yoann Huget, Thomas Combezou, Mathieu Bastareaud, Alexis Palisson; Morgan Parra, Terry Bourahoua; Stephane Clement, Jean-Philippe Genevois, Pierre Marteliere, Albin Louchard, Damien Lagrange, Jean Monribot (capt), Antoine Burban, Alexandre Valdant.
Replacements used: Yoann Maestri for Louchard (36 mins), Thibaut Lassalle for Lagrange (51), Michel Denetre for Parra (60), Mathieu Nicolas for Huget (65), Cyriak Ponnau for Genevois (70). Not used: Benjamin Sore, Julien Andoque, Julien Raynaud, Mickael Drouard, Adrien Tomas, Benjamin Thuries.
IRELAND: Sean Carey, Shane Monahan, Keith Earls, Ian Keatley, Michael Barker; Brian Collins, Paul O'Donohue; Cian Healy, Gerard Slattery, James Gethings, Andrew Browne, Conor McInerney, Tommy O'Donnell, David Pollock (capt), Kevin Sheahan.
Replacements used: Aidan Wynne for Keatley, Ruaidhri Murphy for Gethings (both 65 mins), Thomas Walsh for Browne (70). Not used: David Gilchrist, Richard Sweeney, Jonathan Graham, David Drake, Niall O'Connor, Ivan Dineen, Ivan Whitten.
Referee: Andrew Lindsay (Australia)
Ireland coach Charlie McAleese: "I'm extremely proud of the team. It was a massive effort against a very physical French team but we're very disappointed."
Ireland captain David Pollock: "We're absolutely gutted. It was a game which could have gone either way and there were some 50-50 chances. It was another massive performance by us. We'll now have a big day off and prepare for Samoa on Thursday."
France coach Christophe Mombet: "It was very difficult to win tonight and it was very tough. We will now rest and prepare for Argentina. We still have a lot of things to work on."
France captain Jean Monribot: "Wee are very happy with the win and also because we are still on target for the semi-finals. Ireland were a very tough team to beat."
Source: Steve Hill / www.irb.com