The Ireland Under-18 Club side agonisingly lost 4-3 to France in a penalty kick shoot-out to decide today’s final of the FIRA-AER U-18 European Championship in Dax, France.
Ireland had made the final by virtue of victories over Georgia and top-ranked side England and they started this evening’s game with an intensity that took France by surprise. Against the back drop of an extremely vocal home crowd, the Irish dominated possession and territory for the first 15 minutes.
They deservedly took the lead in the fifth-minute through captain Eamonn Sheridan, who kicked a penalty from the French 10-metre line. But France came back into the game and although Ireland showed great defensive qualities to keep their line intact, the hosts levelled matters with a 20th-minute penalty after sustained pressure.
France maintained this pressure for the rest of the half, but strong Irish defence and a lack of discipline from the home side saw the score remain at 3-3 for half-time.
Elliott O’Brien replaced Rory Stynes at half-time and after 10 minutes, the new out-half had turned the game in Ireland’s favour with a searing break on the half-way line. Once through the gap, he passed wide to full-back Eoghan Conran who sprinted in fron the 22 to score a well-worked try. The conversion was missed by Sheridan, but Ireland led 8-3.
France came back at Ireland, but again Ireland’s defence was stoic and superbly led by the back row unit of Dermot Murphy, Sean Dougall and Liam Carpenter, who had come on for Seamus McKimm.
As the game reached its closing stages, the French kept the pressure on through a succession of penalties near the Irish line. With only two minutes remaining and the championship almost in Ireland’s grasp, France managed to dramatically score from close range to level the scores. The conversion was missed and the final whistle blew – ending the game in an 8-8 draw.
With no extra-time in this tournament, the game went straight to penalties and in the most difficult of circumstances, Ireland were edged out 4-3.
Afterwards, Ireland U-18 coach Greg Lynch said: “Although we are all disappointed, for the third time in a row this squad has put in a performance of the highest order. France put their top side in this age group out against us and we played some excellent rugby.
“No one could have denied that we deserved to take the tournament and it was a cruel way to lose in the end. But all credit to the players and staff who worked incredibly hard for the last two weeks. This experience will certainly stand to all of the players in the future.”
IRELAND U-18 CLUB TEAM AND REPLACEMENTS (v France U-18):
15 – Eoghan Conran (Naas)
14 – David McIlwaine (Larne)
13 – Danny Barnes (Tralee)
12 – Eamonn Sheridan (Navan) (capt)
11 – Colm Brady (Kilkenny)
10 – Rory Stynes (Carlow)
9 – Charlie Mulchrone (St. Ambrose College)
1 – Jason East (Sligo)
2 – Paul Molloy (Waterpark)
3 – Conor Higgins (Ballinasloe)
4 – Michael Lenihan (Mallow)
5 – Charlie Armstrong (Penzance)
6 – Seamus McKimm (RGS High Wycombe)
7 – Sean Dougall (Newcastle Falcons)
8 – Dermot Murphy (Galwegians)
Replacements used: Elliott O’Brien (London Wasps) for Stynes, James Robinson (Corinthians) for East, Joe MacManus (London Irish) for Molloy (all half-time), Liam Carpenter (Westport) for McKimm (48 mins), Mark Flanagan (Mullingar) for Armstrong (60). Not used: Gavin Duffy (Sunday’s Well), Adam Kennedy (Buccaneers), Charlie Ingall (London Wasps), Aengus O’Connell (Corinthians), John Dever (Tallaght).
2007 FIRA-AER U-18 Championship Seeding –
1 – England
2 – France
3 – Italy
4 – Ireland
5 – Georgia
6 – Russia
7 – Romania
8 – Portugal
Manager – Willie Gribben
Coach – Greg Lynch
Backs Coach – Richie Murphy
Defence Coach – Jimmy Duffy
Fitness & Conditioning Coach – Antoine Mobian
Video Analyst – Lenny Browne
Assistant Manager – John Delany
Physiotherapist – Barry Smith
Doctor – John Quinlan