The Ireland Under-20s showed plenty of fighting spirit, with out-half James McKinney scoring 17 points, but they were edged out in the end by France in this IRB Junior World Championship Pool B opener in Argentina.
IRB JUNIOR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP – POOL B: Saturday, June 5
IRELAND UNDER-20s 22 FRANCE UNDER-20s 25, Estadio El Coloso del Parque, Rosario
Scorers: Ireland: Try: Simon Zebo; Con: James McKinney; Pens: James McKinney 5
France: Try: Antoine Erbani; Con: Gilles Bosch; Pens: Jean Marc Doussain 4, Gilles Bosch 2
France replacement Gilles Bosch kicked a late penalty at the Estadio El Coloso del Parque to snatch a 25-22 victory over Ireland in the opening Pool B match of the IRB Junior World Championship.
Only two minutes earlier, Allen Clarke’s youngsters had seemingly snatched the first draw in the tournament’s history after James McKinney curled a superb conversion in from the right touchline to level this absorbing tie at 22-22.
Simon Zebo’s try in the corner had given McKinney the pressure kick, the winger having been on hand to touch down after breaks from replacement Noel Reid and full-back Andrew Conway and some good ball presentation from centre Eoin Griffin took the 2010 Six Nations champions to within inches of the French line.
However, flanker Dominic Ryan, who put in another all-action display, was penalised for a tackle that was not to referee Jaco Peyper’s liking and Bosch calmly stepped up to slot the penalty between the posts and break Irish hearts.
Bosch had already played his part in getting France back into the lead after three penalties from the boot of McKinney had turned a 12-6 half-time deficit into a 15-12 advantage for this industrious Ireland side, within 15 minutes of the restart.
France replacement Romain Taofifenua was held up over the line by some committed Irish defence, but they did not have too long to wait before number 8 Antoine Erbani powered over from close range for the game’s first try.
Bosch added the conversion and a quick-fire penalty to push France out to the seven-point advantage, only for Rhys Ruddock and his team-mates to come back firing and get back on terms.
Ireland had started the match the better, spending much of the opening quarter camped around the French 22, but were unable to turn their territorial advantage into points on the scoreboard.
Out-half McKinney’s first penalty attempt from just inside the France half fell well short in the fifth minute, before Ireland frustratingly wasted some good attacking opportunities through passes going astray or the concession of penalties.
France were more clinical, taking their chances when they came through the reliable boot of Jean Marc Doussain, the number 10 opening the scoring with an 18th minute strike and then adding another five minutes later after seeing a drop goal attempt charged down in between.
McKinney finally got Ireland on the board with a 27th minute penalty from in front of the posts after France were penalised for being offside by South African official Peyper.
The Queen’s University clubman missed another six minutes later that would have tied the scores at 6-6 and the miss proved costly with Doussain continuing his perfect record with two penalties to stretch France’s advantage, the first a great kick from the touchline.
Ireland hit back, though, to trail by six points – 12-6 – at half-time, as McKinney found the target with the last scoring act of a first half that had largely seen both sides cancel each other out.
Speaking afterwards, team captain Ruddock felt that his side had not played as well as they could. The Irish were hoping to maintain the high standard of play they set in the Six Nations, but it was not to be against a French team that just about did enough to merit the win.
“We had all our efforts pinned on winning this game and we really had a good focus during the week, we thought we’d be able to come up with a win and we haven’t really done ourselves justice,” he said.
“But still, there’s another opportunity coming up in a couple of days and all our focus must be on that now.”
A solid set piece and the energy and spirit shown in chasing the French down and moving ahead will be among the positives that Ireland can take into their next pool encounter with England at the same venue on Wednesday (kick-off 2.10pm local time, 6.10pm Irish time).
Clarke’s side suffered a blow in the build-up to their opening match when winger Tiernan O’Halloran was forced out of the tournament through injury.
His place in the starting line-up went to Darren Hudson, while Andrew Boyle of UCD and Leinster has flown out to Argentina as O’Halloran’s replacement in the tournament squad.
TIME LINE: 5 minutes – Ireland penalty: missed by James McKinney – 0-0; 19 mins – France penalty: Jean Marc Doussain – 0-3; 25 mins – France penalty: Jean Marc Doussain – 0-6; 28 mins – Ireland penalty: James McKinney – 3-6; 36 mins – Ireland penalty: missed by James McKinney – 3-6; 40 mins – France penalty: Jean Marc Doussain – 3-9; 40+2 mins – France penalty: Jean Marc Doussain – 3-12; 40+4 mins – Ireland penalty: James McKinney – 6-12; Half-time – Ireland 6 France 12; 43 mins – Ireland penalty: James McKinney – 9-12; 48 mins – France penalty: missed by Jean Marc Doussain – 9-12; 51 mins – Ireland penalty: James McKinney – 12-12; 57 mins – Ireland penalty: James McKinney – 15-12; 73 mins – France try: Antoine Erbani – 15-17; conversion: Gilles Bosch – 15-19; 76 mins – France penalty: Gilles Bosch – 15-22; 79 mins – Ireland try: Simon Zebo – 20-22; conversion: James McKinney – 22-22; 80+5 mins – France penalty: Gilles Bosch – 22-25; Full-time – Ireland 22 France 25
IRELAND U-20: Andrew Conway; Darren Hudson, Eoin Griffin, Nevin Spence, Simon Zebo; James McKinney, John Cooney; Jack O’Connell, Niall Annett, Stewart Maguire, David O’Callaghan, Ben Marshall, Rhys Ruddock (capt), Dominic Ryan, Paddy Butler.
Replacements used: Noel Reid for Hudson (69 mins), David Doyle for Annett, Bryan Cagney for Maguire, Brian Hayes for Marshall (both 75), Michael Heaney for Cooney (77). Not used: Brian O’Hara, David McSharry.
FRANCE U-20: Brice Dulin; Clement Lagain, Remi Lamerat, Romain Barthelemy, Jeremy Sinzelle; Jean Marc Doussain, Alexi Bales; Xavier Chiocci, Mickael Ivaldi (capt), Sylvain Abadie, Jean Sousa, Georges Souvent, Arthur Roulin, Tanguy Molcard, Antoine Erbani.
Replacements used: Kevin Gimeno for Roulin, Romain Taofifenua for Sousa, Eddy Ben Arous for Abadie (all 52 mins), Gilles Bosch for Doussain (69), Kevin Le Guen for Ivaldi (76), Mathieu Lamoulie for Barthelemy (80). Not used: Hugo Bonneval.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)