Ireland Under-20 triumphed over a physical French side 22-5 in another home victory at an atmospheric Dubarry Park in Athlone. Five successful strikes from the boot of Leinster’s Tom Daly and a converted 65th minute dive for the line from Ulster’s very own Conor Joyce secured victory over the forthcoming IRB World Junior Championship hosts.
The French gained early possession through some excellent work from their forwards with out-half Lionel Nallet narrowly missing a drop goal attempt. Daly responded with a well taken penalty come the sixth minute, following an impressive break from Rory Scannell in the centre and a strong carry from flanker Josh van der Flier.
Ireland’s early lead was soon reversed the way of the French with Romain Ruffenach charging down a Steve Crosbie clear out in the Irish 22 to follow up and score. French errors at the ruck lead to Daly adding to his successful strike rate, knocking over two penalties in quick succession and with France’s winger Florian Vialelle carted off to bin for a deliberate knock on come the half hour mark, Daly proved his consistency by adding another.
As the close of the first half approached, the young Frenchmen pushed for a try through some impressive build up play, putting significant pressure on the Irish defensive line. However, Mike Ruddock’s charges held strong and were rewarded with a successful penalty drive in a scrum adding to the scoreboard and totaling a 15-5 home advantage come half time.
France had the first opportunity to gain the first points of the second half through scrum-half Yohan Domenech, who narrowly missed his attempt at the posts as the Irish continued to grow in confidence. Another penalty, this time, came the way of Ireland with Daly unexpectedly missing the posts for the first time in the game.
The next fifteen minutes told a story of sin-binning with the French receiving two yellow cards. The replacement Baptiste Serin saw the first yellow after stamping on Ulster’s John Donnan at ruck time, whilst Gaël Fickou was shown a second following a tip tackle on Crosbie come the 64th minute.
Ireland immediately capitalized on their advantage in numbers, with Joyce taking a ball from scrum-half Luke McGrath to shimmy past two defenders from close range and dive over for the score. Kicking sensation Daly added the conversion to seal a significant margin between the two sides.
The closing minutes of the encounter witnessed a change in personnel from the Irish as Ruddock handed chances to his replacements. Sean McCarthy, Darragh Leader and Ulster’s John Andrew and John Creighton contributing to final defensive efforts, as Joyce fittingly kicked the ball into touch to secure a fine victory for the young men.
Ireland U20s: Stuart Olding (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster); David Panter (Corinthians/Connacht), Tom Daly (Lansdowne/Leinster), Rory Scannell (Dolphin/Munster), Rory Scholes (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster); Steve Crosbie (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster) (capt); Peter Dooley (Lansdowne/Leinster), George McGuigan (Newcastle Falcon/Exiles), Christopher Taylor (Malone/Ulster), Gavin Thornbury (UCD/Leinster), John Donnan (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Conor Joyce (Malone/Ulster), Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster), Ryan Murphy (Dolphin/Munster).
Replacements used: Ryan Furniss (Worcester Warriors/Exiles) for Taylor (24 mins), Sean McCarthy for Thornbury (47), John Andrew (Ballymena/Ulster) for McGuigan (52), Darragh Leader (Galwegians/Connacht) for Panter (63), Peadar Timmins (UCD/Leinster) for van der Flier (70), Mark Roche (Lansdowne/Connacht) for Olding (74), John Creighton (Malone/Ulster) for McGrath, Adam Boland (Lansdowne/Leinster) for Dooley (both 76).
France U20s:Nicolas Metge (SC Albi); Florian Vialelle (Castres Olympique), Gaël Fickou (Toulouse), Thibaut Regard (Lyon OU), Stephen Parez (Racing Metro 92); Vincent Mallet (Stade Francais), Yohan Domenech (RC Narbonne); Cyril Baille (Toulouse), Romain Ruffenach (Biarritz Olympique), Khatchik Vartanov (Racing Metro 92), Jean-Baptiste Singer (Clermont Auvergne), Paul Jedrasiak (Clermont Auvergne) (capt), Jean-Blaise Lespinasse (US Montauban), Francois Cros (Toulouse), Mathieu Babillot (Castres Olympique).
Replacements used: Alexis Valette (Racing Metro 92) for Vartanov, Leo Bastien (SU Agen) for Singer (both 48 mins), Yacouba Camara (RC Massy Essone) for Lespinasse (52), Enzo Selponi (Montpellier HRC) for Mallet, Baptiste Serin (USB-CABBG) for Domenech (both 60), Oleg Ishchenko (Montpellier HRC) for Baille (67), Pascal Cotet (USA Perpignan) for Bastien (75). Not used: Etienne Dussartre (Racing Metro 92).
After their recent disappointment against Scotland last time out, it was good to see the team get back to winning ways and prove their worth on home soil. With victories over both the English and the French, sides of tremendous power and pace, Ruddock’s side have impressed on a number of levels and will now go into their final Six Nations encounter against Italy as favourites.
Tom Daly once again showed his professionalism, landing all but one of his kicks. His second man of the match award in this year’s Championship coming as now surprise as he sets up his status as one for the future.
In terms of the Ulster contingent, it was good to see my brother Conor score his first try at Under-20 national level. He showed both physicality and deftness of footwork to get over the line.
Stuart Olding was solid at fifteen and impressed as always defensively. Rory Scholes showed his electrifying pace when presented with the opportunity but free-flowing running rugby didn’t feature on the night.
John Donnan looks like a prospect in the second row and has been a consistent work man for the side in recent games, very physical and provides a strong foundation at the line-out. Chris Taylor was unfortunately replaced early on in the first half. The Malone man is suffering with a knee injury and there are question marks over whether he will be involved in the meet with Italy.