A BREATHLESS EPIC in Musgrave Park ended in a famous Irish win to keep their U20 Six Nations and Grand Slam defence on track.
Sam Prendergast produced another heroic display, kicking a crucial penalty to secure a slender two-point win against a French side who scored five tries. Paddy McCarthy, Hugh Gavin and Brian Gleeson scored vital tries for Richie Murphy’s side while Prendergast had another efficient night from the tee.
Ireland’s win was all the more impressive given they were struck with two yellow cards, while France had a powerful pack that impressed throughout.
Ireland got off the mark after 10 minutes when Prendergast kicked a penalty between the posts on 10 minutes.
Two minutes later they got their first try from a powerful rolling maul. Diarmuid Mangan gathered the ball securely from the lineout and one big heave resulted in Paddy McCarthy charging over the line. Prendergast then slotted the conversion.
It took France 17 minutes to break into Ireland’s half. But a rolling maul almost ended in an intercept try when Prendergast launched forward to grab the loose ball. However, the play was called back and France were permitted to go at the Ireland line again.
This time they forced Ireland to cough up as Hugo Auradou forced his way over to get France’s scoreboard rolling. Tom Raffy added the conversion.
A second Prendergast penalty helped settle Ireland again, while Hugh Cooney smothered Benmegal when he tried to sneak through again moments later while Ireland held a six-point lead.
Following consultation with the TMO, Ireland grabbed their second try on the half-hour mark. With scrum-half Fintan Gunne making excellent gains, Hugh Gavin lunged in at the corner after gathering well from Prendergast’s quick hands. And the Leinster academy star added the extras with a brilliant angled kick.
France found the corner shortly after the restart and they cut through the arrears from the lineout. Once again it was a second-row who powered over for the score, with Brent Liufau touching down for France’s second try. Raffy was accurate again from the tee to restore that six-point difference.
The French were dealt a blow when Lenni Nouchi was sent to the sin-bin, and they thought they had been granted a reprieve when they made a stunning breakaway. But Prendergast intervened effectively to secure the ball when the ball was kicked through.
After an energetic opening half, both stepped out to draw a breath with Prendergast’s penalties keeping Ireland 20-14 in front.
Ireland made a bright start to the second half, forcing France to concede a penalty for not releasing and Prendergast made no mistake from the tee. That was his third of the night.
A super sequence of Irish defensive work followed on 52 minutes. The French scrum-half cleverly tried to switch the play out wide, stretching Ireland’s line down to threads. Henry McErlean did well to cover the space and force France to come back inside. They did manage to get under the posts, but not sufficiently to earn the try.
The referee eventually awarded a scrum to Ireland, prompting a rapturous home roar in Musgrave Park. That was upgraded to a penalty following Zaccharie Affane’s high tackle on Hugh Cooney. However, Ireland also lost George Hadden to the sin-bin for multiple penalties in the ’22.
Ireland were hit with another setback in the 59th minute when Mangan was sent to the bin for a high tackle, which was just moments after France’s third try. This time it was Theo Attissogbe racing in to touch down. Thankfully, substitute Hugo Reus missed his conversion.
But now Ireland were just four in front and down to 13 players with the two yellow cards.
And then disaster struck. Ireland were struggling to contain the France maul and the made them pay when Nouchi bundled over. France were now ahead with a bonus point, but once again, Reus failed to kick the conversion.
And that was enough to spur Ireland forward again. A super run of phases ended with the towering Brian Gleeson bursting through to reclaim the lead for the hosts. Prendergast stepped up to kick his third conversion of the night.
France weren’t done though. Their forwards showed flexed their muscles again and a gap opened up for Benmegal to squeeze in for their fifth try. Reus kicked a conversion at his third attempt.
France were back in front, but then up stepped Prendergast to cooly slot a penalty. Ireland now go on to face Italy in Round 3.
Allez lez Verts!
Tries: Paddy McCarthy , Hugh Gavin , Brian Gleeson 
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Conversions: Prendergast [3/3]
Penalties: Prendergast [4/5]
Tries: Hugo Auradou , Brent Liufau , Theo Attissogbe , Lenni Nouchi , Enzo Benmegal 
Conversions: Tom Raffy [2/2], Reus [1/3]
Penalties: Tom Raffy [0/1]
IRELAND: Henry McErlean; James Nicholson, Hugh Cooney, John Devine, Hugh Gavin; Sam Prendergast, Fintan Gunne; George Hadden, Gus McCarthy [Danny Sheahan 47, McCarthy returns for Sheahan 55], Paddy McCarthy; Diarmuid Mangan, Conor O’Tighearnaigh [George Morris 57]; James McNabney, Ruadhán Quinn [Evan O’Connell 55], Brian Gleeson.
FRANCE: Louis Bielle-Biarrey; Theo Attissogbe, Nicolas Depoortere, Emilien Gailleton, Enzo Benmegal; Tom Raffy [Hugo Reus 50] Leo Carbonneau; Louis Penverne, Barnabe Massa [Thomas Lacombre HT], Zacharie Affane; Hugo Auradou [Bastien Chinarro 67], Brent Liufau; Oscar Jegou, Lenni Nouchi, Marko Gazzotti.
Referee: Angus Mabey [NZRU]
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