The Ireland Under-18 Schools team advanced to the final of the elite group at the Justin Bridou FIRA-AER Under-18 European Championship in Auch on Sunday night with a hard-fought 19-17 win over France U-18s.
The Ireland Under-18 Schools side, coached by Terry McMaster and sponsored by PwC, will face England in the final of the tournament in Tarbes next Saturday (April 23).
Ireland, who trailed 10-9 at half-time, came back from a 17-12 deficit with a 61st minute try from flanker Daniel Leavy which was converted by scrum half and captain Luke McGrath.
France had opened the scoring with a penalty fom full-back Quentin Pilet 13 minutes into the game. But McGrath pulled his side level just two minutes later.
From the restart, France struck and a well-worked move saw out-half Mathieu Guillomot touch down with Pilet adding the conversion to put them 10-3 in front.
McMaster's charges reduced the lead with further penalties from McGrath in the 28th and 37th minutes to trail by a point at the break.
McGrath put Ireland in front in the 47th minute with another well-struck penalty, but a yellow card for Gordon Frayne shortly afterwards saw Ireland down to 14 men.
France piled on the pressure and despite some stout defending from the visitors, winger Thomas Teddy scored a neat try just as the ten minutes was nearly up. Scrum half Clement Vernezoul added the conversion to put them 17-12 ahead.
But just as France had done in the first half, Ireland managed to hit back. Right from the restart, they regained possession and mounted a well-worked series of attacks.
Leavy went in for the try to level the game and McGrath, who was really on form with the boot, added the all-important conversion to put Ireland back in front just two minutes later.
Both sides used the bench well and France maintained the pressure as they chased the game, but the Irish youngsters were resolute and held firm for a well-earned victory and a place in the final against England.