Ireland’s third straight win over France at Under-20 level owed much to Tom Daly’s reliable right boot and a mix of clever tactics and sheer hard work as the hosts took the verdict at Dubarry Park.
The Ireland Under-20s, sponsored by PwC, added the scalp of IRB World Junior Championship hosts France to that of defending Six Nations champions England as their Athlone home once again proved to be a fortress.
Last month tall centre Tom Daly booted a late conversion to see the Irish past England in dramatic circumstances, but the margin was much more comfortable here as Mike Ruddock's youngsters frustrated an indisciplined French side.
Five well-struck penalties from Daly inside the opening 30 minutes eclipsed an opportunist 11th minute from French hooker Romain Ruffenach, handing the hosts a 15-5 half-time lead.
Florian Vialelle was sin-binned before the break and France had two more players yellow carded in the second half – replacement Baptiste Serin and star centre Gaël Fickou – as Ireland wrapped up the win with a 65th minute try from hard-working flanker Conor Joyce.
Joyce ran Daly close for the Electric Ireland man-of-the-match award such was his influence on open play, and he was ably assisted by his back row colleagues Josh van der Flier and Ryan Murphy who outshone their French counterparts.
France were first to attack, gaining ground through carries from Jean-Blaise Lespinasse and Mathieu Babillot with number 10 Lionel Nallet narrowly missing a drop goal.
Ireland responded strongly with Rory Scannell racing through midfield and Daly then landed a sixth minute penalty after van der Flier had taken the ball up at close quarters.
But, five minutes later, Ruffenach blocked Steve Crosbie's clearance kick in the Irish 22 and swooped on the loose ball to score a soft try which Yohan Domenech failed to convert.
Daly edged Ireland back in front by the quarter hour, landing a penalty from the left with the hosts’ maul and work at the breakdown proving very effective.
A further ruck offence from the French, just outside their 10-metre line, allowed Daly to confidently clip over his third successful penalty.
France struggled with their discipline on a number of occasions and scrum half Domenech was unable to get much purchase on a clearance kick, following a tremendous touchfinder from Crosbie.
The Irish forwards pressed again through a lineout maul. Prop Peter Dooley was hauled down close to the try-line, and the resulting penalty was knocked over by Daly.
It was efficient play by Ireland and with France continuing to test referee Thomas Foley’s patience, a deliberate knock on from winger Vialelle saw him sin-binned on the half hour mark.
Daly maintained his 100% record with a fine strike off the kicking tee, with number 8 Murphy particularly prominent in the build-up.
Ireland put in an excellent defensive display in the closing stages of the first half as France sought a second try, turning down a couple of kickable penalties.
Some terrific tackles from Joyce, John Donnan, Crosbie and Scannell kept the Irish line intact and a penalty-winning drive in a scrum was another positive for the home side.
France upped the tempo after the restart, mauling forward initially and getting centres Fickou and Thibaut Regard more into the game.
Ireland’s defence remained rock solid however, Rory Scholes ripping the ball free and captain Luke McGrath marshalling his troops at the coal face.
Domenech missed a penalty as les Bleuets tried to get the scoreboard moving. Ireland stood up to the task, their scrum continuing to grow in stature.
Daly suffered his only miss of the night, pulling a long range penalty to the left of the target as the game entered the final quarter.
A succession of substitutions broke up the pattern of play, one of those replacements Serin seeing yellow for a stamp on Donnan at a ruck.
Fickou was next to enter the sin-bin, picking up the visitors’ third yellow card for a tip tackle in the 64th minute.
In the very next phase, Ireland made certain of the win as McGrath fed Joyce from a close-in ruck and the red-haired flanker stepped inside two defenders to dive over for deserved try.
Daly added the extras from the right to put 17 points between the sides, sealing his second man-of-the-match award in as many outings in Athlone.
Ruddock emptied his bench over the remaining minutes, Sean McCarthy, Darragh Leader and John Andrew all seizing the chance to impress as Ireland got back to winning ways after their recent setback against Scotland.
The 22-5 triumph completes an excellent run of results for Ireland against French opposition at this age grade. Over the past 13 months, Ireland have been victorious twice in the Six Nations and once at Junior World Championship level against les Bleuets.
Scrum half and current skipper McGrath has the distinction of having played in all three matches, starting last year's Championship win in Grenoble and coming off the bench for Kieran Marmion in the 5th-6th place play-off success in Cape Town last June. Full-back Stuart Olding was also a starter that day.
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)