Under 20 RBS 6 Nations
Ireland 37 France 20
The Ireland Under-20s stunned defending champions France with a four-try salvo at Dubarry Park to maintain their winning start to this year's U-20 RBS 6 Nations.
Backs Jack Owens, Stephen Fitzgerald, Billy Dardis and Garry Ringrose all touched down in an action-packed match which was a tremendous advertisement for Under-20 international rugby.
Key to it all was the performance of Leinster 'A' out-half Ross Byrne, who had an unblemished kicking return of 17 points and engineered a number of Ireland's attacking openings.
A spellbinding first half saw converted tries from wingers Owens and Fitzgerald sandwich an equally sparkling Sékou Macalou effort, with Nigel Carolan's young side building a 20-10 half-time lead.
Ireland had great variety to their game and a last-minute penalty from Byrne gave them a 10-point buffer, just reward for their attacking adventure and structure.
France, who were on a seven-match winning streak in the U-20 Championship, leaked an early try to Dardis on the resumption but Thomas Ramos converted a Michaël Simutoga touchdown and added a penalty to put seven points between the teams.
However, with Jeremy Loughman and Lorcan Dow carrying the fight up front, Ireland replied with a steadying 72nd minute penalty from Byrne and Ringrose ran in a classy intercept try from the restart to seal the result.
The hosts, roared on by a big Irish support, settled quickly as Macalou dropped the kick-off. Debutant winger Fitzgerald got an early touch as out-half Byrne moved scrum ball wide from the French 22-metre line.
Prop Loughman won a scrum penalty to launch Ireland forward again, the maul moving infield and Sam Arnold's strength saw him hold up two tacklers before releasing Owens to touch down to the left of the posts.
Byrne converted for a 7-0 lead and he added a penalty five minutes later, rewarding the heavily involved Arnold and Fitzgerald for some neat interplay in midfield. But the powerful French pack soon won a scrum against the head and Dardis did well to rescue the situation after Arthur Bonneval threatened from a grubber kick.
The visitors duly got off the mark with a right-sided penalty from full-back Ramos, and scrambling defence from Owens and Zack McCall denied Anthony Meric who had pressed from a quick tap inside the Irish 22.
A storming run from number 8 Dow off the back of an under-pressure scrum clawed back important metres for Ireland, while his Ulster colleague Arnold forced a knock-on from his opposite number Francois Fontaine.
Nonetheless, France managed to get back level in the 25th minute. Cyril Cazeaux looked to have come in at the side of an Irish ruck, but play was allowed to continue and rangy flanker Macalou showed searing pace to evade three tacklers on a long range run to the try-line.
Ramos nailed the conversion to the left of the posts, before Ireland countered impressively. A flat Byrne pass invited Josh Murphy through the middle and it took a brilliantly timed cover tackle by French captain Lucas Bachelier to prevent Dardis from touching down.
The Irish attack came alive once more in the 34th minute, Fitzgerald darting on to Arnold's inside pass and the winger's electric pace took him away from three covering defenders to run in a superb try. Byrne followed up with another well-struck conversion for 17-10.
A reckless tackle by Bachelier on Byrne allowed the Irish out-half to widen the gap to ten points just before the break.
Ireland resumed in fine fettle as determined carries from David O'Connor, Loughman and Oisin Heffernan sucked in the fringe defence in the French 22. Byrne then provided a high quality assist, his delayed pass sending the onrushing Dardis in between two defenders to score to the left of the posts.
Byrne kept up his 100% kicking record with the conversion for 27-10, but France were quick to respond as prop Simutoga burrowed over six minutes later following a lineout catch and drive. Ramos added the extras to make it a 10-point game again.
The powerful French bench began to have an impact in the forward exchanges, forcing the issue in the third quarter as a high tackle by lock O'Connor allowed Ramos to slot his second successful penalty.
Fabien Pelous' outfit looked increasingly dangerous as they enjoyed long spells inside the Irish half, however gritty defence - including crucial tackles from Dardis and captain Nick McCarthy - kept them out.
Ireland then won a vital scrum penalty in the 69th minute to clear the danger and France never really recovered. Carries from Dow and Loughman got Carolan's charges back into scoring range and Byrne's reliable right boot made it 30-20.
Ringrose, one of the players back from last year, pounced on a loose Elliot Roudil pass to charge clear from inside the Irish half and go over behind the posts. Byrne tapped over the conversion to give Ireland an unassailable lead as they march on to face England at Donnybrook in a fortnight's time.
Ireland U-20s: Tries: Jack Owens, Stephen Fitzgerald, Billy Dardis, Garry Ringrose; Cons: Ross Byrne 4; Pens: Ross Byrne 3
France U-20s: Tries: Sékou Macalou, Michaël Simutoga; Cons: Thomas Ramos 2; Pens: Thomas Ramos 2
6 minutes – Ireland try: Jack Owens – 5-0; conversion: Ross Byrne – 7-0; 11 minutes – Ireland penalty: Ross Byrne – 10-0; 16 mins – France penalty: Thomas Ramos – 10-3; 25 mins – France try: Sékou Macalou – 10-8; conversion: Thomas Ramos – 10-10; 34 mins – Ireland try: Stephen Fitzgerald – 15-10; conversion: Ross Byrne – 17-10; 40 mins – Ireland penalty: Ross Byrne – 20-10; Half-time – Ireland 20 France 10; 43 mins – Ireland try: Billy Dardis – 25-10; conversion: Ross Byrne – 27-10; 49 mins – France try: Michaël Simutoga – 27-15; conversion: Thomas Ramos – 27-17; 57 mins – France penalty: Thomas Ramos – 27-20; 72 mins – Ireland penalty: Ross Byrne – 30-20; 73 mins – Ireland try: Garry Ringrose – 35-20; conversion: Ross Byrne – 37-20; Full-time – Ireland 37 France 20
Billy Dardis (UCD/Leinster); Jack Owens (Queen's University Belfast/Ulster), Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster), Sam Arnold (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Stephen Fitzgerald (Shannon/Munster); Ross Byrne (UCD/Leinster), Nick McCarthy (UCD/Leinster) (capt); Jeremy Loughman (UCD/Leinster), Zack McCall (Queen's University Belfast/Ulster), Oisin Heffernan (Terenure College/Leinster), David O'Connor (St. Mary's College/Leinster), Alex Thompson (Queen's University Belfast/Ulster), Josh Murphy (UCD/Leinster), Rory Moloney (Buccaneers/Connacht), Lorcan Dow (Queen's University Belfast/Ulster).
Conan O'Donnell (Sligo/NUIG/Connacht) for Heffernan, Nick Timoney (St. Mary's College/Leinster) for Moloney (both 57 mins), Fergal Cleary (Lansdowne/Leinster) for Arnold (63), Adam McBurney (Ballymena/Ulster) for McCall, Cian Romaine (Buccaneers/Connacht) for O'Connor (both 64), Jack Cullen (Shannon/Munster) for McCarthy, Michael Lagan (Ballymena/Ulster) for Loughman, Joey Carbery (UCD/Leinster) for Owens for (all 76).
Adam McBurney (Ballymena/Ulster), Michael Lagan (Ballymena/Ulster), Conan O'Donnell (Sligo/NUIG/Connacht), Cian Romaine (Buccaneers/Connacht), Nick Timoney (St. Mary's College/Leinster), Jack Cullen (Shannon/Munster), Joey Carbery (UCD/Leinster), Fergal Cleary (Lansdowne/Leinster).
Thomas Ramos (Toulouse); Arthur Bonneval (Toulouse), Elliot Roudil (La Rochelle), Francois Fontaine (Clermont Auvergne), Lucas Blanc (Bordeaux-Bègles); Lucas Meret (Bordeaux-Bègles), Anthony Meric (Toulon); Rodrigue Neti (Toulouse), Julien Marchand (Toulouse), Michaël Simutoga (Clermont Auvergne), Tristan Labouteley (Montpellier), Cyril Cazeaux (Dax), Sékou Macalou (Massy), Lucas Bachelier (Perpignan) (capt), Fabien Sanconnié (Brive).
Camille Chat (Racing Metro 92) for Marchand (36 mins), Thibault Estorge (Clermont Auvergne) for Neti, Julien Delannoy (Montpellier) for Cazeaux (both 46), Martin Devergie (Montpellier) for Macalou (52), Antoine Dupont (Castres Olympique) for Meric (58), Damien Penaud (Clermont Auvergne) for Fontaine (61), Valentin Saurs (Agen) for Blanc (64), Quentin Bethune (Agen) for Simutoga (69).
Craig Evans (Wales)