The Ireland Under-18 Schools team suffered a tight defeat to tournament hosts France when the sides met in Tuesday’s FIRA/AER U-18 European Championship semi-final at Chambery.
The French had five points to spare at the end of a hard-fought duel during which they established a platform in the scrum and scored at crucial stages.
Noel McNamara's charges will wrap up the competition with a 3rd-4th place play-off against Scotland at the Stade des Alpes in Grenoble on Saturday (kick-off 3pm local time/2pm Irish time).
In cold conditions, Ireland and France scored two tries apiece in a lively first half with the visitors striking first through winger Jack Owens who was dotting down for the second successive game.
Ireland played with pace as much as they could, trying to move the powerful French pack around, and they pounced on an overthrown fifth minute try to put Owens over in the right corner.
The ball was snaffled on the ground to the left of the posts and accurate passes from Ross Byrne, Fergal Cleary and Billy Dardis, with Harrison Brewer running the decoy, saw Owens finish off a smart attack.
Byrne was unable to convert, and France reasserted themselves with two well-worked tries by the 22nd minute.
Hooker Quentin Lespiaucq redeemed himself for the first try, profiting from a short lineout and a return pass to go over in the right corner. The conversion was slotted impressively by full-back Tomas Ramos for a 7-5 lead.
He also added the extras to Thomas Fortunel's touchdown which came from a chip over the top and some neat interplay in the follow up.
Byrne and Ramos then swapped penalties, the latter coming after the French got the shove on in a scrum. But Ireland had the final say before the break, cutting the gap to 17-15 with a converted try from flanker Rory Moloney.
It was a superb individual effort from the Roscrea forward as he gathered a pass from Byrne on the left, charged into the French 22 and caught the covering winger flatfooted as he sped over close to the posts.
Scoring chances were few and far between in the second half, an early drop goal from Ramos giving France a timely lift as they moved 20-15 ahead.
He added a 54th minute penalty which Byrne cancelled out just three minutes later, but despite a tremendously committed display from the Irish side France stayed frustratingly out of reach on the scoreboard.
Speaking after the game, Ireland head coach Noel McNamara said: “Obviously we're very disappointed. The boys showed great character and worked very hard throughout the game, unfortunately at the end it wasn't to be.
“Congratulations to France, the very best of luck in the final. They're a good side, they were perhaps the stronger side in the set piece.
“It was a physical contest, it was tough. Two sides who didn't back down. We felt that when we got a good platform and good go-forward ball we were threatening, particularly out in the backs. But unfortunately we didn't do that often enough.”
Referee: Claudio Blessano (Italy)