Ireland 9 France 6
Ireland grabbed a dramatic 9-6 victory over France in the opening round of the u20 Six Nations Championship in front of a vocal crowd who braved the bitter cold at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Friday.
Playing conditions at Buccaneers’ ground were in exceptionally good considering the severe weather. A keenly-contested and finely-balanced joust was four minutes into added time when Mark Doyle scampered to the visitors’ 22 where a stretched France defence conceded a penalty on the left. Up stepped Ian Madigan, who had just been announced as the ESB Man of the Match, and the full-back endorsed this accolade and also sealed a home win with a perfectly judged placekick.
This was the first time Ireland led in a game of swaying fortunes in which neither side managed to score a try although the French who, typically, always endeavoured to move quick ball, came closest but knocked on in the tackle when close to the Ireland line after 28 minutes. France led through an 11th minute Pierre Bernard drop goal after Madigan had fumbled. Conor Murray missed two early penalty kicks for the home nation before he finally found the range on 37 minutes. Earlier, a brief flurry of fisticuffs resulted in both captains, Peter O’Mahony and Alexandre Lapandry spending 10 minutes in the sin-bin.
Ireland had the greater share of possession but, despite French hooker Jean Charles Orioli being yellow-carded following the intervention of an assistant referee, Madigan was off-target with the resultant penalty and so the sides were deadlocked 3-3 at the interval when the homesters should really have been ahead.
Ireland could not capitalise on their temporary numerical superiority and both sides missed opportunities to take the lead with Andrew Burke short with an attempted drop goal and French outhalf Bernard also short with a penalty before France regained the lead on 53 minutes when Bernard’s penalty punished an Ireland offside. But, just five minutes later, Burke tied the scores with a penalty to set up a thrilling final quarter.
Now roared on by the big crowd (in front of TV cameras transmitting the action live nationwide and also to France ), Ireland kept their momentum going despite a plethora of substitutions by both teams. Just when time looked like running out on them, substitute Doyle made a terrific break from halfway into the visiting danger zone to earn a penalty and Madigan, Ireland’s third place-kicker on the night, stood up to the pressure and the tricky angle to guide the homesters to a deserved key victory.
Madigan recovered from his early nervousness to be a constant thorn to the French, Eamonn Sheridan was powerful in the centre as was Mullingar’s Mark Flanagan at lock. Dominic Ryan was a dynamic flanker and skipper O’Mahony was the dominant force in the lineouts.
The large crowd was also entertained by the Band of the Fourth Western Brigade and the girls tag rugby teams of Ballybay and Cornafulla National Schools. Now roll on the visit of England on Friday, February 27! Tickets on sale at usual outlets.