Ireland Under-20 Men’s head coach Richie Murphy and his youngest son, out-half Jack, both spoke afterwards about the significance of Saturday’s result, especially as this group had lost twice to France at Under-19 level last year.
Jack coolly split the posts with penalties in the 76th and 80th minutes to steer the Ireland Under-20s (sponsored by PwC) to a brilliant 37-31 bonus point win away to France, as they joined Wales and leaders England at the top of the U-20 Six Nations table.
With Danny Sheahan, Brian Gleeson, player-of-the-match Hugh Gavin, and Finn Treacy all touching down, it was the most points and tries the Ireland U-20s have scored against their French counterparts in nine years.
13 members of the matchday 23 were involved in last Easter’s series in France, which ended in two defeats (52-7 and 52-26) for the Ireland U-19s. France had a dozen of the players from the second match in Cahors on duty with the U-20s last night.
How much the Irish players have improved in the past 10 months through the national development pathway was certainly evident, with Richie saying: “Under-20s rugby is always entertaining, but I think the quality that was on the pitch tonight from both teams was really, really special.
“To come out the right side of that was very, very good from our boys. They came over here last year (at Under-19 level) and got beaten twice, and they had a point to prove because they were way off.
They’ve come back and done really well. I’m really delighted for the boys. Some massive performances. I have to say from 1 to 15, we were delighted (with them), and all the guys who came off the bench.
“Unfortunately two lads didn’t get on, which is just a pity and which is just the way the game was developing. Our two half-backs were controlling the game pretty well.
“All the boys that came on, I thought had massive games. Some of them a year young, which is great experience for them over the next year and even into next year.”
The impact provided by the bench was crucial in Ireland earning that last-minute penalty to sew up the result. Of the replacements that came on, Luke Murphy and 18-year-old pair Henry Walker and Billy Corrigan are eligible to play again for the U-20s next season.
Starting forwards Alan Spicer and Alex Usanov are also playing a year up, with their 19th birthdays not until May and July respectively. The focus is already on Italy next Friday and for the vast majority of the squad, it will be their first experience of being backed by the vocal home crowd in Cork. Tickets are available to buy here.
“They’ll learn so much from here,” the Ireland coach told Virgin Media Sport. “Coming to play rugby in France is a very special place, and a small ground like this – eight-and-a-half, nine thousand people – it’s a really special atmosphere.
“We’re delighted, but it’s like everything, you’ve just to move on to next week. We’ll recover, we’ve got Italy in six days’ time in Virgin Media Park.”
Having already watched his eldest son Ben play for the Ireland U-20s in 2020, Murphy has the unique experience of coaching Jack on the international stage this year. Given Jack has also come up through the age-grades, they have the father-son dynamic in camp down pat.
The 19-year-old half-back summed it perfectly before the tournament when saying: “When I’m in camp and in training and stuff, he’s Richie the coach, nothing will change there. When I go home, he’s my dad again.”
The TV cameras panned up to the Irish coaching box after Jack had landed his penultimate penalty from long range, and Richie clapped his hands and afforded himself a smile as his resilient team moved back in front.
Asked how he felt his son had fared on his U-20 international debut, he replied: “I was extremely proud to see Jack out there doing his thing. I thought he had a super game, controlled it well.
“When we needed to kick, I thought he kicked pretty accurately and got a lot of pressure on their back-field, which is something we wanted to go after.
“And then he steps up and knocks over those goals. Over the course of the season, he has missed very few kicks. His goal-kicking is very good.”
Meanwhile, Jack was delighted to get one over the French having lost to them on three occasions, once with the Ireland U-18 Schools team, going down 28-23 at the 2022 U-18 Six Nations Festival in Marcoussis, and twice with the Ireland U-19s last year.
“It was great. We had a tough few weeks trying to really improve over the last three weeks. I have to say everyone has put so much into it,” he said.
“To come over here to Aix-en-Provence and get a win like that is so special for us. It’s actually our first win against France as a group, so I think that means a lot to us.”
Murphy was involved in some game-defining moments during the last quarter of the hour. Along with those vital late kicks, he was first to a loose French pass, prodding the ball through to set up Treacy (pictured above with Corrigan and Murphy, as the squad’s Pres Bray trio) to touch down.
“It just kind of instinct because the ball went on the floor, so I said I’d give it a hack. Finn got down on the ball, it was kind of a game-changer for us as well, because I think the momentum changed after that,” he said of the winger’s 67th-minute try.
Asked about slotting over seven kicks out of seven and whether his dad is happy with that return, Jack replied: “I’d say so, he’d be giving out if I had any less! No, it’s great, he’s delighted, I think so.
“It’s the same (kicking) process as I’ve been doing since I’ve been young. Trust your process and trust your gut feeling. Try to stay as calm as possible and hopefully you’ll nail it.”