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Ireland U-19s Turn On The Power In Five-Try Win Over France

Ireland U-19s Turn On The Power In Five-Try Win Over France

The Ireland Under-19s (sponsored by PwC) turned in a powerhouse performance to blow away the challenge of France this evening, running in five tries on their way to a commanding 29-point win. Mark Higgins reports on the first ever international to take place on the University of Limerick’s 4G pitch.

Tom Tierney's youngsters dominated the France U-20 Development side up front and used that platform to punch holes in what was a porous French defence. Ireland Under-19 captain Azur Allison led from the front with a brace of tries either side of half-time before Claytan Milligan, Conor Phillips and Angus Kernohan all added touchdowns as the game wore on.

The Ireland U-19s played with the aid of a strong wind in the first half at UL – the game having been moved from Galway's Sportsground due to the wet weather – but they almost a try after just two minutes. France hooker Ryan Barka broke away and looked nailed on to score before a superb last-ditch tackle from Munster Academy member James McCarthy forced a knock-on.

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Determined to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Japan, Ireland hit the front in the sixth minute when France were penalised at scrum time, an early harbinger of the hosts' superiority in the area. PBC Cork centre Sean French landed the kick from just inside the French half to get Ireland rolling.

French and his centre partner Stewart Moore both impressed in the Irish midfield and the pair almost combined for a breakaway 10th-minute try – only for an unlucky knock-on from Moore to spoil the chance.

Ballymena Academy out-half Bruce Houston doubled the Irish lead, nonetheless, as he popped over a straightforward penalty and the game's first try arrived on 18 minutes. Ireland enjoyed a long spell of pressure deep in French territory and the strain finally told in the visiting defence as Allison burst his way across the line to touch down. Houston's conversion made it 13-0.

Ireland's dominance at the breakdown was causing France all sorts of problems. St. Michael's College flanker Scott Penny put in a huge shift over the ball and was instrumental in forcing two more penalties in quick succession from which Houston, who finished with 16 points, widened the gap.

France finally got on the scoreboard shortly before half-time when front rower Barka made up for his earlier knock-on by striding through McCarthy's cover tackle to dot down in the corner. There was still time for a fourth successful penalty of the half from the surefooted Houston to give Ireland a deserved 22-5 interval advantage.

The excellent Allison went over for his second try of this entertaining, just two minutes after the restart. He was in the middle of a well-executed Irish maul that the French had no prayer of stopping. But France, to their credit, did improve in the second half and they bagged a second try on 51 minutes. Winger Donovan Taofifenua skipped a lovely pass wide left to Aurelien Labau and the centre cut back inside for the score.

Ireland's response was swift and decisive, however; another penalty was sent into touch for a five-metre lineout and, after a handful of phases, Ballynahinch hooker Milligan, who touched down twice against Japan last Wednesday, wriggled his way over for the try, even if the grounding looked a tad suspicious.

The contest grew increasingly ragged and open as both sides began to run their benches and France went in for a third try with ten minutes left, replacements Dimitri Delibes and Ilan El Katthabi combining for the latter to touch down.

There was time left for a brace of late Irish tries, though, as Crescent College winger Conor Phillips capped a fine individual display with a 63rd-minute score on the end of a clever grubber kick from replacement scrum half Graham Curtis, and Allison's Ballymena club-mate Angus Kernohan wrapped up a hugely satisfying day's work when he sniped through the tiring French defence to touch down, two minutes from time.

The two teams will meet again in Galway on Saturday afternoon in the second game of their Easter double-header. Kick-off at the Sportsground is at 2.30pm.

Ireland U-19 team manager Barney McGonigle said: “The coaches were delighted with the win against a very powerful France team at the superb facilities at University of Limerick. The players will take part in a review of their performances with the management team on Wednesday.

“This group has benefited greatly from having played two recent games against Japan and realise fully just how challenging their final game against a very fine French squad will be. However, I believe they will be up to that challenge.”

Referee: George Selwood (England)