Clinical finishing was the difference between the Ireland Under-19s and France in Lormont, Bordeaux this evening as the hosts scored six tries in a swashbuckling 44-15 win.
The final scoreline was flattering to the French as the Ireland U-19s were well in the game for 50 minutes and a number of refereeing decisions went against them. However, les Bleuets, who defeated England 35-22 ten days ago, ran in three more tries to put the result beyond doubt.
Kieran Campbell's side, who trailed 17-8 at half-time, had a try in each half from Bandon Grammar School prop James French and Instonians winger Mark Keane. Belvedere College's Hugh O'Sullivan kicked five points from the tee.
The France U-19s had the early possession and territory in sunny conditions at Stade Jules Ladoumègue, although the boot of loosehead French and flanker Jack Cooke's speed at the breakdown disrupted the French momentum. Mathieu Jalibert missed his first shot at the posts after the big home pack forced a scrum penalty.
The French out-half made no mistake with a seventh minute kick, punishing Ireland for offside, and Irish scrum half O'Sullivan missed a chance to reply, hitting the right hand post after good work in the build-up from Matthew Dalton, who gathered a lineout at the tail, and the jinking Angus Curtis.
Having lost a scrum against the head, Ireland's front row trio answered back by winning a penalty, the French loosehead Ugo Boniface belatedly whistled up for 'stepping out and going around' according to Welsh referee Gareth Newman.
Ireland went the direct route with their next possession on the quarter hour mark, centre David McCarthy, who was the pick of the Irish backs, making the initial incision in the 22 before good ball retention from the forwards allowed prop French to pick from a close-in ruck and twist his way over for an unconverted score.
The centre pairing of McCarthy and James Hume were beginning to wield more influence, however an overthrown lineout led to French hooker Maxime Lamothe making a magnificent break downfield. Ireland leaked two penalties within scoring range, the second a harsh call as an Irish forward was pinned in at a ruck, and a quick tap saw Pierre-Henry Azagoh fed for a try in the right corner.
Jalibert converted and also added the extras to Lamothe's 29th-minute maul score as the French opened up a 12-point lead. Boniface's angle of scrummaging gave away another penalty, allowing O'Sullivan to close the gap to 17-8 for half-time with the aid of the left hand post.
Ireland avoided any further concessions before the break with O'Sullivan putting his body on the line at the breakdown to win a relieving penalty, while Garryowen clubman McCarthy continued to show a good eye for a gap and also put in a couple of searching kicks.
Disappointingly, Campbell's youngsters fell out of contention early in the second period. The match officials ignored a crooked French lineout and a subsequent long range penalty from Jalibert kept the scoreboard moving in the right direction for his side.
Ireland maintained a high work-rate in defence – Peter Sullivan stood up to big flanker Cameron Woki out wide – but they coughed up possession too easily and obvious gaps started to appear as the half wore on. France tapped a scrum penalty, gaining crucial ground before openside Baptiste Heguy sold a dummy and went clean through to dive in by the posts, with Jalibert converting.
France's impressive ability to swiftly turn possession into points earned them two more tries before the hour had elapsed. Replacement Julien Delbouis finished off an overlap on the left after a brilliant initial break from deep by Iban Etcheverry, and the latter's wing colleague Maxime Marty crossed on the opposite flank in the 59th minute having gobbled up a kick through off turnover ball.
Dublin University full-back Michael Silvester inspired Ireland's response with a superb counter-attacking run from his 22. He made it all the way up to the French 22 before his well-timed pass allowed Keane to cut in off his right wing and evade the cover for a top class try converted by O'Sullivan.
Trailing 39-15, Ireland struggled for territory until the speedy Silvester scooted up the right wing again, and the visitors looked to building for another try – McCarthy's dink to the corner pinned France back and the forwards won a turnover from the maul – but a subsequent back-line move broke down.
The good work of replacement Max Kearney in winning a penalty on the deck was undone when Woki ripped the ball free at Ireland's attempted maul, allowing the fluent hosts to seek out a sixth and final try, three minutes from time. Centre Nathan Decron blazed through midfield from a pass that looked suspiciously forward, but the attack was allowed to continue and full-back Clement Laporte duly dotted down.
Giving his reaction afterwards, Ireland head coach Kieran Campbell said: “We were competitive, but after the first 20 minutes we produced some unforced errors, the scrum and also in terms of our detail – with the ball and our ball focus – which allowed France to grow into the game and when they did, they were very good.
“Our guys need to learn that when you're playing at this level that you have to have a greater ball focus. You can't give the ball up as easily as we did. Whenever we got any foothold in the game, we gave the ball away cheaply and France punished us.”
The Ireland U-19s will regroup, absorb the lessons from this heavy loss and aim for a strong finish to the tour in their Easter Sunday rematch with France at Stade Robert Brettes in Merignac, Bordeaux (kick-off 3pm local time/2pm Irish time).
TIME LINE: 3 minutes – France penalty: missed by Mathieu Jalibert – 0-0; 7 mins – France penalty: Mathieu Jalibert – 3-0; 11 mins – Ireland penalty: missed by Hugh O'Sullivan – 3-0; 15 mins – Ireland try: James French – 3-5; conversion: missed by Hugh O'Sullivan – 3-5; 25 mins – France try: Pierre-Henry Azagoh – 8-5; conversion: Mathieu Jalibert – 10-5; 29 mins – France try: Maxime Lamothe – 15-5; conversion: Mathieu Jalibert – 17-5; 34 mins – Ireland penalty: Hugh O'Sullivan – 17-8; Half-time – France 17 Ireland 8; 44 mins – France penalty: Mathieu Jalibert – 20-8; 49 mins – France try: Baptiste Heguy – 25-8; conversion: missed by Mathieu Jalibert – 25-8; 53 mins – France try: Julien Delbouis – 30-8; conversion: Mathieu Jalibert – 32-8; France try: 59 mins – France try: Maxime Marty – 37-8; conversion: Mathieu Jalibert – 39-8; 61 mins – Ireland try: Mark Keane – 39-13; conversion: Hugh O'Sullivan – 39-15; 77 mins – France try: Clement Laporte – 44-15; conversion: missed by Jules Gimbert – 44-15; Full-time – France 44 Ireland 15
Referee: Gareth Newman (Wales)