Irish heroes set sights on Slam

Ireland’s U20s captured their share of the headlines on a dramatic weekend for Six Nations rugby in France when they dug deep for a thrilling victory over Les Bleus, surviving a pulsating finale at the Stade des Alpes, Grenoble on Saturday.

Irish hearts were beating fast in the closing moments as Welsh television match official Derek Bevan took time out to study claims for a French try from number eight Karl Chateau. Bevan ruled his effort inconclusive and Ireland held out for a magnificent and historic triumph, enthusiastically welcomed by coach Mike Ruddock.

It was Ireland’s first victory at this level in France — their best result to date had been a draw — and there were many heroes, not least try scorer Foster Horan and JJ Hanrahan, whose penalty gave Ireland the one point advantage they held to the end.

A second successive victory puts Ireland in with a real chance of a Grand Slam, given that they have two home fixtures in the next three games, but Ruddock intends taking it one step at a time.

“Saturday was a bit of a dogfight but we got a very important try fromFoster; it was an excellent individual effort and we tackled and competed for the 50-50 possession very well. In the end it was a sort of a scary moment when the referee and TMO came into it; France thought they scored a try at the death but it was shown not to be a try on the replay.

“There’s always drama when an incident like that happens in the 79th minute and you wonder whether the decision is going to go your way or their way, but it was inconclusive and I thought it was fantastic defending by our lads because we got lots of bodies around the ball carrier, got our hands under the ball and stopped what might have been a clear cut try being scored.”

Out-half Clément Otazo had put France 6-3 ahead at the break, with captain Paddy Jackson kicking Ireland’s points. That terrificindividual try from Horan early in the second-half was followed by two more Otazo kicks, but Hanrahan’s 73rd-minute penalty decided this closely-fought encounter.

The second half Irish try was worthy of winning the game, withreplacement winger Horan fielding 35 metres out; he wriggled away from two defenders in midfield and then and broke free of Bastien Chalureau’s tackle to score under the posts, Jackson making the simple conversion.

Inevitably, France hit back and Otazo landed two penalties as the French forwards started to apply pressure in the set pieces.

It looked ominous for Ireland when they lost flanker Aaron Conneely to the sin-bin for offside at a ruck, but the visitors kept their composure and soaked up the pressure. Indeed, Hanrahan might have sealed the deal earlier; he was unfortunate to lose control of the ball after intercepting a pass near halfway.

The momentum remained with the French, however, and both KyleMcCall and Niall Scannell had to put in huge tackles to keep the home side at bay.

Ireland grew in confidence following their heroics in defence and in the 73rd minute, struck for the winning points. A well-orchestrated kick chase helped Ireland win back a chunk of territory, and when Yohann Artru was penalised for preventing the opportunity to take a quick lineout Hanrahan stepped up to drill over the kick.

The victory leaves Ireland in a happy place but Ruddock believes there is more needed and expected of his team: “We have created some very good chances in both games to date, but haven’t always nailed those and you need to do that in matches that are as close as they have been. There has been a lot of spirit and a lot of courage, though, and to win in France is no mean feat, so we’ll take that in going forward.”

IRELAND: S Layden (Buccaneers/Connacht), C Finn (Buccaneers/Connacht), C Farrell (Dungannon/Ulster), JJ Hanrahan (UL Bohemian/Munster), S Coghlan Murray (UCD/Leinster), P Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster, captain), L McGrath (UCD/Leinster), K McCall (Ballynahinch/Ulster), N Scannell (Dolphin/Munster), P Reilly (Lansdowne/Leinster), I Henderson (Queen’s University/Ulster), D Qualter (Buccaneers/Connacht), C Gilsenan (UCD/Leinster), A Conneely (Corinthians/Connacht), J Conan (Old Belvedere/Leinster).

Replacements: F Horan (Lansdowne/Leinster) for Coghlan Murray (30 mins), T Beirne (Lansdowne/Leinster) for Qualter (59), K Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht) for McGrath, J Coghlan (UCD/Leinster) for Conneely (both 68), J Rael (Garryowen/Munster) for Reilly, D Merrey (Clontarf/Leinster) for Scannell, C Marsh (Dublin University/Leinster) for Jackson (all 71).

Referee: Neil Hennessy (Wales).

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