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Ireland U-19s Show Plenty Of Promise In Drawn Easter Series With France

Ireland U-19s Show Plenty Of Promise In Drawn Easter Series With France

The Easter series between the Ireland and France Under-19 teams ended with one win apiece after the French side exacted revenge at the Sportsground on Saturday, running out 45-20 winners of the sides’ second clash.

Cormac Foley (40 minutes) and Michael McGagh (67) crossed for Ireland's only tries, the latter scoring on his Under-19 international debut, but France – stung by their 46-17 midweek defeat in Limerick – held the aces on this occasion and were deadly from turnover ball in an impressive seven-try performance.

Ireland's collective display had plenty about it too, particularly their start in the bright Galway sunshine. Billy Scannell and Luke Clohessy caught Dimitri Delibes with a couple of solid tackles on the French 10-metre line, and with out-half Simon Desaubies guilty of going off his feet, his opposite number, Glenstal Abbey's Ben Healy, fired the resulting penalty kick over for a second-minute lead.

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Conor Phillips then did well to cover a kick through by his own opposite number Vincent Pinto, after the French backs had manufactured a break on halfway. Michael Milne, who has been ever-present in the Ireland number 3 jersey over the last fortnight, was whistled up for side-entry at a French maul but Ilan El Katthabi curled his place-kick wide from just outside the 22.

Caolan Englefield kicked well off a lineout in the Irish 22 and the IQ Rugby scrum half was a key organiser in defence, barking orders and making sure Ireland were well set up for chop tackles on the beefy French carriers. Les Bleuets blew their first try-scoring opportunity with an overthrown lineout, which was gathered at the rear by Scott Penny. McGagh then came through the middle of France's next maul attempt to force a turnover.

Ireland's back row was growing in influence, captain Azur Allison making a ground-gaining carry, and centre Stewart Moore also combined well with Angus Kernohan on a run up towards the French 22. A fine touchfinder from Healy put pressure on the French lineout, and a subsequent maul infringement allowed Healy to double Ireland's lead from the tee – 6-0 after 23 minutes.

France continued to have the lion's share of territory, but Ireland were well-organised in defence and a jinking run from winger Phillips, with Kernohan also gaining yards, had the hosts hammering up inside the 22. French and Penny had Ireland within striking range before the visitors came up with a vital turnover at the breakdown.

Another chance was lost when Englefield took the wrong option in electing to stab a kick through after a sidestepping run from Moore, and France duly struck on the counter. Phillips initially did well to halt a break from deep, bringing down Sven Bernat in midfield, but retreating full-back James McCarthy failed to ground an awkwardly bouncing kick from Mathieu Smaili behind the Irish try-line, and the latter's centre partner Dimitri Delibes swooped to score an opportunist try, converted by El Katthabi.

The momentum continued to shift in France's favour with a second try just a couple of minutes later. Milne knocked on a pass and France countered swiftly again, regaining possession from a kick and then Smaili repeated the trick from the first score, dangling a kick towards the left corner which Delibes reached first for a sudden 12-6 lead.

Ireland's error count was increasing, France reading a pop pass from Allison and building from halfway for the try of the game. There was some superb interplay up on the left wing as Donovan Taofifenua combined with pacy flanker Matthieu Hirigoyen, who offloaded neatly to the supporting El Katthabi and big hooker Ryan Barka was up in support to finish off under the posts. El Katthabi converted and France's quick-fire three-try blitz had them 19-6 ahead at half-time.

The injured Allison was among the players to make way for the start of the second period, as Ireland head coach Tom Tierney introduced Ruadhan Byron, Bruce Houston, Iwan Hughes, Foley and Martin Moloney. Back rower Byron had a strong early carry and Athy clubman Moloney got a French lineout back on Ireland's side.

The injection of those bench players worked a threat as a couple of penalties launched Ireland deep into French territory, with Houston also kicking well. The forwards carried hard, including tighthead Milne out to the right, before replacement scrum half Foley seized his chance from a close-in ruck to stretch over the line past three covering defenders. Houston's pinpoint conversion cut the gap back to six points.

In response, France looked dangerous again in broken play but UCD's Charlie Ryan thwarted them with a steal on the deck inside his 22. However, the powerful French pack stormed forward from the resulting lineout maul, and despite Irish calls for a 'truck and trailer' penalty, play continued and replacement scrum half Matteo Rodor sniped over for an unconverted try from a couple of metres out.

24-13 soon turned into 31-13 as France mauled up to halfway from the restart, and a loop play saw Desaubies and Pinto split the defence. The winger reached the 22 and linked with Rodor, who fed Matthieu Hirigoyen and the blindside fended off Moloney's last-ditch tackle to score an excellent team try, converted by Rodor.

The maul had France pressing for another try but Blackrock College flanker McGagh came up with an impressive rip to win back possession and Houston found a terrific touch from a relieving penalty. Unfortunately a couple of French forward passes were missed by the match officials in the lead up to France's next try, again though the finishing was clinical as replacement Guillaume Martocq scrambled over in the left corner.

Rodor curled over the conversion, and as they sought to hit back, Ireland's accuracy was slightly off once more, a handling error spoiling a promising attack that began with a Byron rip. They had two more visits to the French 22 and St. Gerard's student Foley succeeded in unlocking the defence, throwing a dummy and supplying a superbly-timed pass for the onrushing McGagh to muscle his way over past two defenders.

Houston tagged on the extras, just to the right of the posts, but frustratingly for the home side, a series of missed tackles allowed French winger Taofifenua clean through for a very well-taken last-minute try, converted by Rodor with the final kick of an entertaining and well-contested game.

Referee: Elgan Williams (Wales)