Under-20 Grand Slam winner James McNabney led by example as he captained the Ireland Under-19s to a hard-fought 26-21 win over France at Queen’s University Belfast RFC.
UNDER-19 MEN’S INTERNATIONAL MATCH: Monday, April 11
IRELAND UNDER-19s 26 FRANCE UNDER-20 DEVELOPMENT XV 21, Queen’s University Belfast RFC
Scorers: Ireland Under-19s: Tries: Ihechi Oji, Paddy McCarthy, Conall Henchy 2; Cons: Sam Prendergast 3
France Under-20 Development XV: Tries: Oscar Jegou, Arthur Diaz; Con: Clément Mondinat; Pens: Clément Mondinat 3
HT: Ireland U-19s 12 France U-20 Development XV 16
In the first of the teams’ two matches, it took a brace of well-taken second half maul tries from Conall Henchy and some gritty defending in wet and windy conditions for Ireland to prevail.
Fast-starting France led 16-12 at half-time, Clément Mondinat tagging three penalties onto Oscar Jegou’s early try but Ireland’s Ihechi Oji and Paddy McCarthy both touched down.
Kieran Hallett’s charges dug their heels in through sin-binnings for Oji and George Shaw, showing their battling qualities as hooker Henchy’s scores – both converted by Sam Prendergast – put them in a winning position at 26-16.
There was plenty of late drama as Ireland, who lost number 8 Shaw to a second yellow, scrambled furiously to keep the French out. Replacement Arthur Diaz’s last-gasp try was of little consolation to les Bleuets.
The two sides will certainly be battle-hardened for their final clash of the Easter break, which takes place at St. Mary’s College RFC’s Templeville Road ground on Saturday (kick-off 2pm).
France stole a march on their hosts with a well-worked try after barely a minute’s play. Putting a number of phases together straight from the kick-off, flanker Jegou hurtled onto a short pass to score with full-back Mondinat converting.
Much to the home crowd’s delight, there was a quick-fire response from Ireland who scored from their first decent bit of possession.
McNabney brilliantly handed off Léon Darricarrere and tore through a gap on halfway, weaving past Joseph Exshaw to reach the 22 where he offloaded to Henchy who set up Oji for a neat finish from 10 metres out.
The tricky wind saw Prendergast miss the conversion from the left, and in a tit-for-tat opening spell, Mondinat replied with a close-range penalty for a 10-5 French lead.
Oji took out openside Clément Sentubery in the air at the restart, earning a yellow card, but Ireland held firm in his absence and their only concession was a second Mondinat penalty.
Despite a miscued lineout, Ireland maintained a foothold in the French 22 with McNabney and abrasive lock Charlie Irvine leading a successful choke tackle. The resulting possession saw winger Oji threaten with a strong run.
The Irish maul worked out the second time from a penalty, Henchy being stopped short before a series of pick and drives ended with tighthead McCarthy burrowing over on his own in the 29th minute.
Prendergast’s conversion made it 13-12 and he needed to make an important tackle on Yerim Fall as France launched a late surge, pressing for their second try.
Their forwards were held up but Mondinat added to their tally after Shaw’s sin-binning for tackling Liam Rimet from an offside position as the scrum half looked to break around a ruck. It was the last kick of the half.
Play resumed with 14-man Ireland having the wind and rain at their backs, yet France almost repeated their fast start from the opening period. Referee Andrew Cole could not see a grounding for Sentubery’s effort, with Prendergast and Liam McCarthy holding him up.
Good kicking from Prendergast, combined with Irish pressure at a French lineout, allowed the home side to get back into scoring range. From a second maul opportunity, Henchy was driven over in clinical fashion.
Prendergast’s well-struck conversion from the right gave Ireland a 19-16 lead, which was doggedly defended as France built momentum before Paddy McCarthy and Shaw got in at the breakdown to win a clearing penalty.
Mondinat pushed a kickable 52nd-minute penalty wide, and a costly French turnover and penalty against them allowed Ireland access into the 22. Crucially, another well-controlled lineout drive saw Henchy score with 11 minutes remaining.
Hallett’s young guns led by 10 points after Prendergast had curled his conversion between the uprights. With their bench providing a timely burst of energy, France ended the game on the front foot.
Ireland showed immense commitment and resilience in defence, clinging onto their hard-earned lead by holding up French players on four separate occasions – either right on the try-line or behind it.
Too many team penalties led to Shaw’s second yellow in the dying minutes, but McNabney and his team-mates had done enough to see out the victory despite Diaz’s snipe from a ruck to the right of the posts.
IRELAND U-19: James Nicholson (St. Michael’s College/Leinster); Henry Buttimer (Rockwell College/Munster), Hugh Cooney (Blackrock College/Leinster), Liam McCarthy (Bandon Grammar School/Munster), Ihechi Oji (Cistercian College Roscrea/Munster); Sam Prendergast (Lansdowne FC/Leinster), Andrew O’Mahony (UCC RFC/Munster); Jack Boal (Belfast Harlequins RFC/Ulster), Conall Henchy (Crescent College Comprehensive/Munster), Paddy McCarthy (Blackrock College/Leinster), Patrick Browne (Ballymena RFC/Ulster), Charlie Irvine (Queen’s University Belfast RFC/Ulster), James McNabney (Ballymena RFC/Ulster) (capt), Ruadhan Quinn (Crescent College Comprehensive/Munster), George Shaw (Cardiff University/IQ Rugby).
Replacements used: George Hadden (Clontarf FC/Leinster) for Boal (40 mins), Ross Taylor (City of Armagh RFC/Ulster) for McCarthy, Rory Telfer (Coleraine Grammar School/Ulster) for Buttimer (both 55), James Wright (Ballymena RFC/Ulster) for O’Mahony (58), Matty Lynch (Dublin University FC/Leinster) for Nicholson (61), Danny McCarthy (Midleton RFC/Munster) for P McCarthy, Tom Barry (Lansdowne FC/Leinster) for Henchy (both 64). Not used: James Doyle (Enniscorthy RFC/Leinster), Daniel Leane (St. Mary’s College RFC/Leinster), Liam Molony (Blackrock College/Leinster), Josh Costello (Shannon RFC/Munster).
FRANCE U-20 DEVELOPMENT XV: Clément Mondinat (Section Paloise); Enzo Benmegal (Racing 92), Nicolas Depoortere (Union Bordeaux Bègles), Léon Darricarrere (ASM Clermont Auvergne), Yerim Fall (RC Massy Essonne); Joseph Exshaw (Union Bordeaux Bègles), Liam Rimet (Lyon OU); Louis Penverne (Stade Rochelais), Hugo Parrou (Section Paloise), Valentin Simutoga (ASM Clermont Auvergne), Raphaël Portat (Stade Toulousain), Léo Labarthe (Stade Toulousain) (capt), Oscar Jegou (Stade Rochelais), Clément Sentubery (Stade Toulousain), Yoni Tuataane (RC Vannes).
Replacements: Adrien Sonzogni (Montpellier HR), Adrien Mallet (Stade Français Paris), Karl Sorin (Stade Rochelais), Kimi Esse (Lyon OU), Marvin Okuya (Lyon OU), Jeremy Bechu (US Colomiers), Hugo Sarrasin (ASM Clermont Auvergne), Arthur Diaz (US Colomiers), Louison Gras (Castres Olympique), Arthur Mathiron (Lyon OU), Paul Costes (Stade Toulousain).