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Ireland Students Impress In Jonzac With Eight-Try Display

Ireland Students Impress In Jonzac With Eight-Try Display

The Ireland Students players are pictured with some of their French counterparts following tonight's game in Jonzac

Five unanswered second half tries saw the Ireland Students, sponsored by the Maxol Group, complete a terrific 53-10 win over France Universities in Jonzac tonight.


Scorers: France Universities: Try: Romain Fricou; Con: Alois Chayla; Pen: Alois Chayla
Ireland Students: Tries: Alan Francis 2, Matt Bowen, Taylor Gleeson, Ronan Quinn, Louis O’Reilly, Cathal Duff, Rob Hedderman; Cons: Michael O’Kennedy, Aran Egan 4; Pen: Michael O’Kennedy
HT: France Universities 10 Ireland Students 20

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The Tony Smeeth-coached Ireland side showed the undoubted quality of Energia All-Ireland League and University club rugby, with an ultra-efficient performance from a squad that is dominated by Division 1A regulars.

It was the Ireland Students’ first international outing since defeating Scotland in 2019 – a certain Dan Sheehan was a starter that day – and a whole new set of players got to proudly represent their club, University and country on French soil.

Led superbly by 20-year-old Ulster Academy forward Harry Sheridan, Smeeth’s charges built a 20-10 half-time lead with Matt Bowen and Taylor Gleeson showing their pace for two cracking tries out wide.

French prop Romain Fricou had rumbled over to cancel out an Alan Francis maul effort, but the errors increased from the hosts on the restart and Ireland were clinical in putting away their chances.

Replacement out-half Aran Egan converted four of the visitors’ closing five tries, which were shared out between Francis (44 minutes), Ronan Quinn (53), Louis O’Reilly from a 55th-minute interception, and replacements Cathal Duff (65) and Rob Hedderman (68).

A 1,600-strong crowd turned out to watch the match which will become an annual fixture for the next four years following an agreement signed between the Irish Universities Rugby Union (IURU) and the French Federation of University Sports (FFSU).

Next year’s clash will take place in Cork in early February, scheduled for the day before the Guinness Six Nations game between Ireland and France at the Aviva Stadium.

After falling behind to an early Alois Chayla penalty, UCC’s Jack Kelleher tapped back the restart and a ground-gaining Irish attack resulted in a levelling three-pointer from Dublin University captain Michael O’Kennedy.

Ireland exerted pressure in the set piece, forcing a turnover off a French scrum and then competing well at a lineout with livewire scrum half O’Reilly then getting the chance to make a snappy break past halfway.

With the hosts leaking three penalties in quick succession, Ireland were a whisker away from making them pay midway through the first half. Lansdowne lock Ruairi Clarke unfortunately knocked on as he stretched out for the line.

Nonetheless, the French soon conceded another maul penalty and from the next lineout, Kelleher brought down the ball to set up the drive and flanker Francis plunged over neat the left corner to make it 8-3.

Just as France were building phases inside the Irish 22, a knock-on allowed Alessandro Heaney to boot the ball up past halfway. His UCC club-mate Bowen brilliantly outpaced Benjamin Reynier to dribble it through and score to the right of the posts.

10 points was the difference but France then enjoyed a purple patch. Big number 8 Reda El Gharbaoui was tackled short from a quick tap, but Fricou was able to burrow over with Chayla converting for a 13-10 scoreline.

Tighthead Thomas Connolly emerged with possession off the restart and a swift attack out to the left had Gleeson slicing through on a superb run from 40 metres out. He burst clear and jinked around his opposite number Hugo Pandalfo to score.

A well-struck O’Kennedy conversion restored Ireland’s 10-point lead for the break, and only four minutes had elapsed in the second period when Francis – one of nine Trinity starters – completed his brace from another nicely-controlled maul.

Ireland worked the choke tackle to good effect in preventing a French response – Sheridan and Luke Clohessy, in particular, made a nuisance of themselves – and their backs were beginning to prosper out wide.

With France failing to retrieve their own kick, Francis tidied up to release UCC flyer Bowen on the counter. He drew in two defenders, offloading for Quinn whose clever footwork left Pandolfo in his wake for a slick run-in at the left corner.

The freshly-introduced Egan converted to make it 32-10 and there was no let up from Smeeth’s charges, as O’Reilly intercepted a pass from Thomas Piquemal to thunder clear from just outside the Irish 22 and suddenly put 29 points between the sides.

France’s frustration grew with full-back Pandolfo kicking two penalties dead. Ireland’s forwards kept working hard, MU Barnhall hooker Duff powering through from a maul and shrugging off two defenders to ground the ball.

The extras added by Egan, there was plenty of activity on both benches during the closing stages. Ireland made sure to finish strongly with one last seven-pointer to push them through the half-century mark.

From a scrum half on halfway, a zippy back-line move got Bowen on the outside of a defender. Rob Gilsenan and Francis were up in support, and despite being tackled, both players got offloads away with the latter’s allowing Hedderman to apply the finishing touches.

Egan’s fourth successful conversion completed the scoring and although France rallied late on, their handling let them down. The game ended with Bowen threatening on the right wing before being bundled into touch.

FRANCE UNIVERSITIES: Hugo Pandolfo (Université Grenoble Alpes/FC Grenoble Rugby); Luc Patissier (INSA Lyon/LOU Rugby), Benjamin Reynier (Université Grenoble Alpes/FC Grenoble Rugby), Lucas Coussinoux (Université Toulouse 3 – Paul Sabatier/US Carcassonne), Jules Cordier (Université Toulouse 3 – Paul Sabatier/US Colomiers); Alois Chayla (Université Paris Dauphine/Stade Français Paris), Antoine Domercq (Université Lyon/LOU Rugby); Romain Fricou (Université Toulouse 3 – Paul Sabatier/US Colomiers Rugby), Baptiste Beaujouan (Université Rennes 1/Rennes EC), Christophe Marchand (Racing 92 Formation/Racing 92), Baptiste Domise (INP Bordeaux/US Salles), Romain Lopez-Surjus (INSA Toulouse/Avenir Castanéen Rugby), Quentin Dubois (Université Grenoble Alpes/FC Grenoble Rugby), Raphaël Bonhoure (Université Toulouse 3 – Paul Sabatier/US Saint Sulpicienne) (capt), Reda El Gharbaoui (Purple Campus de Carcassonne/US Carcassonne).

Replacements: Gabriel Lante (Université Toulouse 3 – Paul Sabatier/Stade Toulousain), Etienne Narmand (IDRAC Business School/Lyon LOU Rugby), Martin Hernandez (INSA Toulouse / Toulouse Université Club), Théo Dryjard des Garnier (Université Toulouse 3 – Paul Sabatier/Stade Toulousain), Thomas Piquemal (Université Toulouse 3 – Paul Sabatier/US Montauban), Charlie Griffoul (Université Toulouse 3 – Paul Sabatier/US Montauban), Iyad Bouiounate (Université Toulouse 2 – Jean Jaurès/Union Barbezieux Jonzac), Thibault Amigorena (Université de Bordeaux/Biarritz Olympique).

IRELAND STUDENTS: Taylor Gleeson, Trinity College Dublin (DUFC); Matt Bowen, University College Cork (UCC RFC), Louis Bruce, University College Cork (UCC RFC), Gavin Jones, Trinity College Dublin (DUFC), Ronan Quinn, Trinity College Dublin (DUFC), Michael O’Kennedy, Trinity College Dublin (DUFC), Louis O’Reilly, Trinity College Dublin (DUFC); Alessandro Heaney, University College Cork (UCC RFC), Mark Nicholson, Technological University Dublin (DUFC), Thomas Connolly, Trinity College Dublin (DUFC), Ruairi Clarke, Dublin City University (Lansdowne FC), Harry Sheridan, Trinity College Dublin (DUFC) (capt), Luke Clohessy, University of Limerick (Terenure College RFC), Alan Francis, Technological University Dublin (DUFC), Jack Kelleher, University College Cork (UCC RFC).

Replacements: Cathal Duff, Maynooth University (MU Barnhall RFC), Chris Hennessy, University College Dublin (UCD RFC), Ben Popplewell, Technological University Dublin (Lansdowne FC), Gerard Hill, University College Dublin (UCD RFC), Anthony Ryan, Trinity College Dublin (DUFC), Rob Gilsenan, University College Dublin (UCD RFC), Aran Egan, Technological University Dublin (DUFC), Rob Hedderman, University College Cork (UCC RFC).

Referee: Federico Vedovelli (Italy)