Ireland Under 20s – France 26-24 Ireland
Ireland faced France in the opening Under 20s fixture of the 2018 World Championship that is being held in France. Noel Mc Namara has had to select a squad that will be shorn of a number of key men through injury like Angus Curtis, Sean Masterson and Jack O Sullivan. In that case other players will need to step up to the plate.
The game last night took place at the Stade Aime Giral the home of Perpignan rugby club. France won this year’s Six Nations and came into this game as favourites but Ireland hadn’t read that script and worked really hard to earn a 17-5 half time lead.
Ireland have worked hard to solve some of the issues that had dogged there Six Nations like poor set piece play and a lack of control in the line out but these issues seemed to be well on the way to being sorted with Ireland keeping hold of possession and moving a really big French pack around the field with fly half Harry Byrne kicking in behind the French back line and then managing to pick their way through using the forwards to keep the ball in tight and sucking in the close defence to then unleash the outside backs with the centre pairing of Tommy O Brien and Peter Sylvester really using their feet to open up gaps in the French defence.
From a French perspective then never got going until the 2nd half and within 6 minutes of the 2nd half beginning they had turned a 17-5 deficit into a 26-17 lead by scoring three tries in quick succession and then Ireland struggled with French power in the set piece and in the line out. Ireland could not get their hands on the ball and made a number of changes to try and solve those problems but waited until the 65th minute to introduce Jonny Stewart the Ulster scrum half who played at this level last year and started in this year’s Six Nations campaign also.
Hugh O Sullivan started the game last night but when it came to get an experienced head on the pitch to try and steer Ireland home, the move came too late and although Jonny Stewart had a positive impact when he did arrive with his break in the 78th minute leading to the line out that almost saw Ireland getting over the line to sneak a win that did not look likely after the opening 20 minutes of the 2nd half.
Ireland will now face South Africa next Sunday in the 2nd game of the Pool and will need to beat them to stand any chance of making the last 4 of this year’s competition where the three Pool winners and the best runner up will make up the Semi Finals.
Noel Mc Namara and his coaching team that includes Paul O Connell will need to impart some real nuggets of wisdom to this young group of players to help them overcome the substantial challenge that awaits them against South Africa…
Cian Mc Gibney