The men in green left it late to snatch victory from France in Cork
By Liam Kelly O’Rourke
Ireland U20s kept their hopes of retaining the U20 Six Nations title and a second successive Grand Slam alive after a thrilling 33-31 defeat of France in Musgrave Park, Cork on Friday evening.
The home side were forced to grind out the victory with Sam Prendergast’s 77th-minute penalty cancelling out a French try just minutes earlier to secure a narrow two-point victory.
Ireland started the brighter racing into a 10-point lead by the 13th minute – Prendergast was on song converting a penalty and conversion while Paddy McCarthy went over the try line.
Diarmaid Mangan secured the ball from the line out, a well-structured move developed before McCarthy went over the try line for the opening try of the night.
France were under the cosh during this period but hit back with a sucker punch in the 17th minute. Pau lock Hugo Auradou crossed the line with Tommy Raffey nailing the conversion to bring the score back to 10-7.
Richie Murphy’s Ireland U20s were positive in their approach and were back on the scoreboard within five minutes through another Prendergast penalty to extend their advantage to 13-7.
Fans were greeted with an impressive brand of rugby from Ireland and this was rewarded at the half-hour mark.
Following consultation with the TMO, Ireland crossed the try line for the second time as Hugh Gavin fought off French pressure to sneak in at the corner and create an 11-point lead.
The resulting conversion was slotted home from a tricky angle by Sam Prendergast and it was 20-7 heading into the final 10 minutes of the half.
However, the French storm was capable of a few nasty gusts and shortly after the restart, they went over for a try of their own.
Using the lineout effectively, Brent Liufau claimed possession and powered through while Raffey found his shooting boots with the conversion to leave the scoreline at 20-14 at the half-time interval.
Ireland, much like the first, started the second half brightly and were on the scoreboard within two minutes as the French were forced to give away a penalty for not conceding with Prendergast making no mistake to leave the scoreline at 23-14.
Ireland managed to keep their defensive line in check for almost 20 minutes of the second half, but eventually, they budged.
Theo Assatisogbe dashed down the wing and crossed the line to bring the contest back to a four-point margin. Crucially in the context of the result, the subsequent conversion was kicked wide.
Musgrave Park was in for a thrilling finish and the home side needed them. Sin bin offences for George Handen and Diarmaid Mangan for penalty and high challenge infringements respectively meant the closing stages would be challenging for the men in green.
Failure to point conversions will haunt the French for the next number of days as yet again their lack of ruthlessness raised its ugly head with 18 minutes remaining.
The Irish, not for the first time on the night, failed to control the French maul as Benmegal swooped in for another French try.
However, Reus failed to take the opportunity from the boot leaving the French lead at 26-23.
The match was on a seesaw at that point and this time it was Ireland’s turn to reply. From a line out, Ireland kept hold of possession and built up the phases as they headed deep into French territory.
Ireland showed great patience and were eventually rewarded through Brian Gleeson who notched Ireland back into the lead before Prendergast popped over the resulting conversion as the 7,000 or so Irish supporters cheered on the Irish at 30-26.
But, the French weren’t dead and buried just yet! Benmegal going in for his country’s 5th try and a scored conversion by Reus on the 3rd time of asking pushed the French 31-30.
The match appeared to be slipping away from the hosts until Prendergast saved the day.
A penalty went sailing between the posts from the fly-half, settling the contest at 33-31 to Ireland U20s in what can only be described as a pulsating game of rugby.
Ireland: Henry McErlean; James Nicholson, Hugh Cooney, John Devine, Hugh Gavin; Sam Prendergast, Fintan Gunne; George Hadden, Gus McCarthy (C), Paddy McCarthy; Diarmuid Mangan, Conor O’Tighearnaigh; James McNabney, Ruadhan Quinn, Brian Gleeson.
Replacements: Danny Sheahan, George Morris, Fiachra Barrett, Evan O’Connell, Jacob Sheahan, Oscar Cawley, Harry West, Rory Telfer.
France: Louis-Bielle Biarrey; Theo Attissogbe, Nicholas Depoortere, Emilien Gailleton (C), Enzo Benmegal; Tom Raffey, Leo Carbonneau; Louis Penverne, Barnabe Massa, Zaccharie Affane; Hugo Auradou, Brent Liufau; Oscar Jegou, Lenni Nouchi, Marko Gazzotti.
Replacements: Thomas Lacombre, Luca Tabarot, Maino Pakihivatau, Bastien Chinarro, Mathis Castro Ferreira, Hugo Reus, Arthur Mathiron, Mathis Ferte.