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Ireland Dig Deep To Pass French Test

Ireland Dig Deep To Pass French Test

The Ireland Under-18 Schools team, sponsored by PwC, are just one match away from successfully defending their FIRA/AER U-18 European Championship title after coming from behind to beat France in Madrid on Tuesday.

Click here to view highlights of the Ireland-France match.

Despite falling behind early on and having lock Ross Molony sin-binned in the second half, the Irish Schools side pulled through in impressive fashion to reach the FIRA/AER final for the second successive year.

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They outscored their French opponents by three tries to two with speed merchant Gregory O'Shea grabbing a brace and prop Charlie Slowey breaking through for the third.

Out-half Conor McKeon continued his fine place-kicking rate with two conversions and a penalty, while his kicking out of hand pinned France back at crucial stages of the game.

As a contest, it was a gripping affair and closely-fought throughout. France, who lost 19-17 to Ireland at this stage of last year's European Championship, edged into an early lead thanks to two Thomas Bouyxou penalties.

The territorial battle swung one way and the other before Bouyxou punished Ireland for a scrum infringement in the 11th minute. The winger added a second three minutes later after Ireland were ruled offside.

With the sun coming out, Terry McMaster's side hit back with a sustained spell of possession. The forwards, marshalled by captain Daniel Leavy, mauled forward with intent and a subsequent ruck offence offered McKeon his first shot at the posts.

The Gonzaga College student landed the kick from 25 metres out and Ireland were off the mark. France were on the back foot now, having had centre Baptiste Perrot sin-binned, and Leavy and company took full advantage.

They battered away at the French defensive wall, retaining possession at pace and a brilliant break from centre Harrison Brewer sent winger O'Shea in under the posts with McKeon converting the 25th minute try.

It was advantage France again though just before half-time. They managed to move 13-10 ahead when their inside centre Gaël Fickou evaded the Irish defence on a superb solo run that earned him a 32nd minute try. Baptiste Serin's conversion put three points between the sides.

Ireland's response was hugely encouraging. They showed great intensity at the start of the second half, forcing a French error in possession and direct running from Leavy brought play up close to the French whitewash.

The ball was moved quickly out to the left where Brewer provided the assist again for O'Shea to raid in at the corner for his second score after just two minutes. McKeon confidently converted for a 17-13 scoreline.

The defending champions had to soak up plenty of pressure from the restart however, with France backing their scrum to do damage. The 42nd minute loss of Molony unsettled the Irish side briefly, and they could not hold out.

After being held up on a couple of occasions, France's persistence paid off when out-half Sébastien Dimitri struck from close range for their second try. His half-back partner Serin converted from in front of the posts to restore their three-point advantage.

Down to 14 men and 20-17 behind, Ireland had a huge fight on their hands. In an attritional final 25 minutes, they displayed tremendous determination and skill on the ball to take the game to the French again.

Their concerted efforts yielded a vital third try on the hour mark. Having pressed and pressed, the Irish got their just reward to move back in front (22-20).

It took some opportunistic play from CBC Cork forward Slowey, who blocked Serin's attempted clearance kick from a ruck and collected the ball on the bounce to charge over in the left corner for an inspirational five-pointer.

Four minutes later, Ireland were back on their try-line to watch a penalty kick from France's Serin which he failed to convert from 35 metres out.

It was France's final scoring chance as Ireland's dogged defence held them at bay in the dying embers, sealing a third international win of 2012 for the youngsters in green and their safe passage through to Saturday's title decider.

It was a performance backboned by the hard graft of the well-drilled forwards and some clever interchanges and attacking plays from the strong-running backs, with the bench also having an impact in a strength-sapping second half.

McMaster's charges will face familiar foes England, who beat Wales 22-16, in the final at the Ciudad Universitaria venue. Saturday's match will kick off at 4.45pm local time/3.45pm Irish time.

Referee: Lloyd Linton (Scotland)