In front of a crowd in excess of 4,000 spectators, the Ireland Under-18 Clubs team turned in a convincing performance to beat their French hosts 27-14 under the Stade Penvilliers floodlights in Quimper, Brittany.
The Irish boys started in confident mood taking the game to France and gained an early reward when centre Thomas Daly knocked over a penalty from 35 metres in the opening minutes.
From the kick off France pressurised the Irish side but strong defence kept them at bay and a great turnover in mid field saw the ball reach centre Kieran Butler, who made a great midfeld break, to score close to the posts. Daly added the conversion to give Ireland a 10-0 lead after 10 minutes.
This stung the French into action and after a period of pressure Ireland infringed at the breakdown and France were awarded a penalty which they converted to narrow the gap to 10-3.
Debutant out half George Cullen, who was having a fine game, threatened the French defence with a side stepping break which took play deep into the French half.
Ireland were awarded a scrum and scrum half Barry Digby made a sniping break from the base only to be cut down within sight of the French try line. Unfortunately he was penalised for holding on and the French were able to clear their lines.
On 25 minutes, out half Cullen made another break on the French 22 metre line and good feet and a strong hand off saw him cross for a try which Daly converted once again thus extending the Irish lead to 17-3.
Ireland won the ball at the kick off but were turned over leading to a period of French pressure. However a well organised Irish defence kept the French at bay but just minutes before half time the French were awarded another breakdown penalty which they converted to trail by 17-6 at half time.
Ireland made a nervy start to the second half and soon found their lead narrowed as the French scored an unconverted try to narrow the gap to 6 points (17-11).
Ireland’s defence was being truly tested at this period but the French were unable to penetrate a well drilled defence whose committed tackling ensured the Irish line was kept intact.
The French scrum half was causing problems with breaks from the ruck and he added a penalty 10 minutes into the second half to narrow Ireland’s lead to 17-14. Ireland then lost influential out half Cullen to injury.
This caused a reshuffle to the back line with Daly moving to out half and Conall Doherty replacing Cullen. They also made a front row change with Ryan Furniss replacing Jamie Dever.
Up front the Irish pack was in control in the lineout with Captain Eoghan Masterson, Sean O’Brien and Ultan Dillane all turning in big performances. Flanker Conor Joyce was also having a big game carrying ball well and making big hits in defence.
Irish nerves were settled 15 minutes into the second half when Daly, who was having a good night off the tee and in defence, slotted a penalty to extend Ireland’s lead to 20-14.
Ireland, now playing with growing confidence went on the attack and after fine work by the forwards, lock Dillane crossed for Ireland’s third try of the match. Once again Daly added the extra points to give Ireland a 13 point lead.
Coach Greg Lynch then used his bench bringing on replacements Adam Byrne, Dave O’Connell, Eoin Stynes and Josh O’Rourke for Tom Flynn, Sean O’Brien, Barry Digby and Peter Dooley who were unsurprisingly showing signs of tiring in what had been a very physical and quick paced game.
This was a strong all round team performance with the Irish boys showing great commitment, passion and skill throughout earning them a well deserved first ever victory over France.
The Ireland U-18 Club team have done very weel this season with a comprehensive win over Germany U-18s and a draw against a combined England Club & School side last weekend.
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