By Ben Hart in Verona
Ireland’s Under-20 Six Nations Summer Series began with a spirited defeat as they went down 42-21 to a dazzling France side.
Richie Murphy’s side struggled to assert themselves in the opening 40 and left themselves too much to do despite an improved showing after the break.
Aitzol King and Fionn Gibbons impressed once more and both added a score to their U20s tally, but it was not enough as Ireland’s five-game winning run came to an end in Treviso.
France started brightest and came within inches of scoring after a deft chip kick from fly-half Léo Barré. His dink was gobbled up by Emilien Gailleton who almost found the line, as did Samuel M’Foudi a phase later, before full-back Max Auriac kicked the game’s opening points after a scrum penalty.
Ireland’s best moment in the opening quarter came when No.8 Lorcan McLoughlin shrugged off a challenge from M’Foudi to carry his side deep into French territory.
But the Ulster man threw a loose pass which squandered possession and put France back on the front foot.
And they wasted no time in punishing Ireland. Second row Léo Labarthe latched onto an inside pass from Barré and darted home to score under the posts.
Gailleton was never far away from the action and quickly made it two. A sublime pass from Louis Bielle-Biarrey gave Gailleton the freedom of Verona and after a one-two with Nicolas Depoortere he coasted home to score.
Lock M’Foudi was then carded for a needless late hit on Daniel Hawkshaw and France soon faltered with a man down.
His ill-discipline was clearly contagious as a succession of penalties enabled Ireland to work their way upfield.
The biggest cheer of the day then greeted King’s score after 14-man France simply ran out of defensive cover, as Ireland reduced the arrears to 17-7 just before the interval.
Within three minutes of the second period France and Gailleton were again denied a third try courtesy of the TMO.
Then, as Ireland tried to clear their lines, a harsh penalty against James McNabney presented Auriac with the opportunity to extend France’s lead from the tee and it was one which he gobbled up to take the score to 20-7.
The score which put the game beyond doubt soon followed as France dazzled once more. Substitute Gatien Masse stepped in as first receiver and found Depoortere with a simple but highly effective close-range pass.
The centre then raced away before side-stepping Dylan O’Grady to finish.
Auriac added three more to take France to 30, by which point coach Murphy had made wholesale changes and offered minutes to those who are sure to play a big part in Ireland’s remaining fixtures, with a tight turnaround between games.
And the replacement forwards in particular staked a claim for a starting place against next time out, slowly weighing down the French defence before a penalty try, with the score at 30-14 going into the final quarter.
French replacement hooker Victor Montgaillard and centre Gibbons then traded scores before Montgaillard rounded off the scoring in the final minute.
Next up for Ireland is South Africa, who earlier made a winning start with a narrow 30-22 win over England.
The Six Nations Under-20 Summer Series takes place from 24 June – 12 July. Fans can watch every match live. For more information visit this link
France: 15. Max Auriac, 14. Ethan Randle, 13. Emilien Gailleton (c), 12. Nicolas Depoortere, 11. Louis Bielle-Biarrey, 10. Léo Barre, 9. Baptiste Jauneau, 1. Thomas Moukoro, 2. Connor Sa, 3. Eliott Yemsi, 4. Samuel M’Foudi, 5. Léo Labarthe, 6. Noé Della Schiava, 7. Maxime Baudonne, 8. Killian Tixeront.
Replacements: 16. Victor Montgaillard, 17. Pierre-Emmanuel Pacheco, 18. Robin Bellemand, 19. Raphael Portat, 20. Léo Banos, 21. Jules Coulon, 22. Simon Tarel, 23. Matéo Garcia, 24. Malohi Suta, 25. Émile Dayral, 26. Gatien Masse
Tries: Montgaillard x2, Labarthe, Gailleton, Depoortere. Cons: Auriac x4. Pens: Auriac x3.
Ireland: 15. Dylan O’Grady, 14. Aitzol King, 13. Fionn Gibbons, 12. Daniel Hawkshaw, 11. Shay McCarthy, 10. Tony Butler, 9. Ethan Coughlan, 1. Oisin Michel, 2. James McCormick, 3. Darragh McSweeney, 4. Conor O’Tighearnaigh, 5. Adam McNamee, 6. James McNabney, 7. Reuben Crothers (c), 8. Lorcan McLoughlin.
Replacements: 16. Josh Hanlon, 17. George Hadden, 18. Kieran Ryan, 19. Charlie Irvine, 20. Diarmuid Mangan, 21. Michael Moloney, 22. Am Prendergast, 23. George Coomber, 24. Reece Malone, 25. George Shaw, 26. Ronan O’Sullivan.
Tries: King, Penalty Try, Gibbons. Cons: Butler, Prendergast.