By John Fallon
France 26 Ireland 24
The prospect of a shock victory was but a false promise when Ireland took a 12 points lead into the break in the opening match of the World Rugby U-20 Championship in Perpignan.
Noel McNamara’s men looked set for a superb opening to the tournament when they recovered from a poor start to lead 17-5 at the break.
But France, dominant in the scrum, turned on the power and style after the restart to run out deserved winners and leave Ireland needing to beat South Africa in Narbonne on Sunday to have any hope of making the semi-finals.
Nevertheless, a late try from out-half Harry Byrne secured a bonus point which could yet prove invaluable in the quest for a semi-final spot.
Ireland showed commendable composure to recover from a poor start to lead 17-5 at the end of the opening half.
Their hopes of a bright start were dashed even before the game when loosehead prop James French was injured in the warm-up.
And France, the reigning Six Nations champions, wasted little time in laying down a marker, opting to run a penalty inside the 22 after Irish out-half Byrne was charged down.
It was a wise move as the French worked it wide for Maxine Marty to score in the left corner.
Romain Ntamack, son of former French star Emile, missed the conversion and was also off target with a penalty from 40 metres on the left after 14 minutes.
In between, Byrne was unable to find the target with a penalty from 40 metres on the left but he got Ireland off the mark after 18 minutes with a successful kick from 25 metres to cut the gap to 5-3.
Ireland, already without several injured players, were forced into a late change when loosehead prop James French twisted a knee in the warm-up, with Jordan Duggan coming in to start.
Ireland’s injury problems continued when they lost debutant winger Dan Hurley after 27 minutes but by then they had hit the front with some precision attacking.
They patiently built several phases and flanker Joe Dunleavy supplied the finish, with Byrne adding the conversion to make it 10-5 after 22 minutes.
France, with Marty always looking dangerous down the left, squandered a couple of try-scoring chances.
And replacement winger Sean O’Brien did enough to get across and deny Marty a certain try.
At the other end winger Tom Roche intercepted to dash over but the move was whistled back for a high tackle on Ntamack which earned Irish tighthead Jack Aungier ten minutes in the bin.
Ireland made light of the loss of a man and actually increased their lead before the break, again showing commendable composure and patience to build the phases inside the 22.
Scrum-half Hugh O’Sullivan was the one to spot a gap and he dived over, with Byrne converting to make it 17-5 at the interval.
But that was as good as it got for Ireland as France took charge after the restart with some powerful rugby.
It took them less than five minutes to wipe out that advantage after the restart with scrum-half Arthur Coville scoring and then Ntamack chased his own grubber to score and convert and push France 19-17 in front.
They increased the lead after 51 minutes when Marty got his second try in the left corner after a superb break by full-back Hassane Kolinger, with Ntamack converting from the touchline to make it 26-17.
But Ireland never gave up and were duly rewarded when replacement scrum-half Jonny Stewart out Byrne over to secure a bonus point.
Scorers for France: M Marty (2), A Coville, R Ntamack tries; R Ntamack 3 cons
Scorers for Ireland: J Dunleavy, H O'Sullivan , H Byrne tries; H Byrne pen, 3 cons
France: C Laporte; L Tauzin, P L Barassi, A Seguret, M Marty; R Ntamack, A Coville (c); H Kolingar, M Lamothe, D Brennan; T Lavault, K Geraci; S Zegueur, C Woki, C Francoz.
Replacements: J Joseph for Zegueur 33; D Bamba for Brennan ht; G Marchand for Lamothe 50; JB Gros for Kolingar 50; P-H Azagoh for Geraci 56; J Gimbert for Coville 66; M Lebal for Marty 66.
Ireland: M Silvester (Dublin University/Leinster); T Roche (Lansdowne/Leinster), T O'Brien (UCD/Leinster), P Sylvester (UCC/Munster), D Hurley (Young Munster/Munster); H Byrne (UCD/Leinster), H O'Sullivan (Clontarf/Leinster); J French (UCC/Munster), D Barron (Garryowen/Munster), J Aungier (St Mary's College/Leinster); M Dalton (Malone/Ulster), J Dunne (Dublin University/Leinster); J Dunleavy (Malone/Ulster), M Agnew (Ballymena/Ulster), C Doris (St Mary's College/Leinster).
Replacements: S O'Brien (Clontarf/Leinster) for Hurley 28; J Byrne (Dublin University/Leinster) for Agnew 37-46; C Dean (St Mary's College/Leinster) for H Byrne 50-59 HIA; C Daly (UCD/Leinster) for Dalton 50 HIA; J Byrne for Aungier 57; A Hall (Ballynahinch/Ulster) for Dunleavy 68; , J Stewart (Queen's University/Ulster) for O’Sullivan 68; D Sheehan (Dublin University/Leinster) for Barron 76.
Referee: Karl Dickson (RFU).