The Ireland Under-18 Clubs team were desperately unlucky to lose to tournament hosts France in 20-degree Paris sunshine, as they leaked the decisive try in the closing minutes.
It was the opening fixture of the Three Nations tournament at the French National Rugby Centre in Marcoussis, with Ireland taking on England at the same venue next Wednesday afternoon.
Wayne Mitchell's youngsters led 3-0 for most of the game against France, and were the stronger attacking side in the opening 35 minutes.
France had an early opportunity when they gathered a loose ball inside their own 22 and moved it wide – gaining ground into the Irish 22 – but the visitors' scramble defence covered well to ensure their line was not breached.
For the remaining of the first half Ireland profited from a strong set piece platform, with hooker Adam McBurney consistently hitting his lineout targets, Hugh Sloan and Sean O'Leary.
They used set piece ball to launch Ireland's attack deep into French territory and were unlucky not to cross the try-line on at least two occasions.
Andrew Feeney and Brett Connon exerted plenty of control at half-back, using possession intelligently as they probed for openings. However, the injury-enforced loss of centre Conor O'Brien was an early setback.
France gave away eight penalties in the first half through indiscipline. Out-half Connon failed to open the scoring on four minutes, but he successfully slotted over a 33rd minute penalty to give Ireland a 3-0 interval lead.
The Clubs side started strongly in the second period but had to defend for long spells without the ball. They did manage to steal some French possession through busy openside flanker Conor Farrell who was effective at the breakdown.
Showing a huge amount of focus and intensity, Ireland created more opportunities in the second half but failed to turn them into points as they held onto their three-point advantage.
Wingers Peter Howard and Josh Daly had two good line breaks that got the big Irish support on their feet. Disappointingly, on both occasions, they came up short of the French whitewash.
France then struck late on for the match-winning score after turning over possession on the halfway line. The ball was shifted wide to winger Martin Laveau who outflanked the defence and touched down against the run of play.
Following Romuald Seguy's conversion, Ireland were determined to hit back over the remaining seven minutes.
Mitchell's charges were camped on the French try-line but the home side held out to claim a narrow four-point victory.