Ireland U20 33-31 France U20

Ireland U20s maintained their perfect Musgrave Park record and their Grand Slam ambitions thanks to a late Sam Prendergast penalty to defeat a resurgent French side.

France scored five tries to Ireland's three but 18 points from the boot of Prendergast had the defending champions ahead at the final whistle.

Paddy McCarthy and Hugh Gavin's tries had Ireland 20-14 up at half-time but they struggled to contain France’s lineout maul in conceding three second-half tries, with one try from Brian Gleeson in response.

Ireland have never lost an U20 Six Nations match in Cork and that fact stood to them as a sold-out crowd cheered them to a victory that takes their Leeside winning streak to eight in a row.

France, reinforced by the arrival of five players from Top14 duty, made seven changes from their one-point win over Italy.

But it was Ireland’s sole newcomer from the Wales win, Henry McErlean, who made the early impact, straight into the action to tidy up a viciously bouncing Louis Bielle-Biarrey kick. With their defence secure, Ireland built the most of the early pressure.

Their quick ruck ball caused France to accumulate 10 first half penalties and two yellow cards, playing the 10 minutes either side of half-time with 14 men.

After turning down an early attempt at the posts for a tap-and-go effort which Ireland knocked on, Prendergast kicked Ireland ahead with an 11th-minute penalty.

The next penalty, a minute later, went to the corner instead and while the maul came up short, two phases later McCarthy somehow burrowed under the French defenders and over the line. Prendergast made it 10-0.

Ireland only gave away four first-half penalties to France’s 10 but two in quick succession had them under pressure. They stopped the initial maul illegally and though they defended the second better, France worked infield for Hugo Auradou to drive under the posts. Tom Raffy tapped over to end the first quarter with the gap at three.

Another Prendergast penalty doubled Ireland's lead and two huge scrums further turned the screw on France, who were warned for repeat infringements.

From the subsequent line-out, they were pinged again for collapsing the Irish maul with Zaccharie Affane sent to the sin bin. The TMO then called the referee’s attention to Gavin’s carry, initially adjudged short of the line. Television pictures showed the Connacht winger rolling the ball onto the line. Try awarded and Prendergast made it 20-7 after half an hour.

Even minus a forward, France packed an impressive maul and Brent Liufau capitalised on a hole in the Irish defence to barrel over. Raffy slotted the extras.

France’s 10th penalty against, again on their own five-metre line, saw Lenni Nouchi join Affane in the sin bin. In the chaotic final moments, Ireland lost the ball forward, Louis Penverne and Emilien Gailleton combined to break from under their own posts into Irish territory only to be chased down by Prendergast. 20-14 at half time.

The Leinster out-half kicked a long-range penalty on the restart to give Ireland the comfort of a nine-point lead.

France forced the next five penalties in a row and had any number of chances to cut that deficit. The first penalty, kicked to touch, was stolen. The second, a Raffy kick bounced from one post onto the other and was gathered by Oscar Jegou. He was pushed over the line but held up by the Irish defence.

George Hadden sniffed out a pre-planned line-out move. Two more tap-and-go penalties followed. Marko Gazzotti came closest, the TMO confirming he was stopped by the Munster back-row combination of Ruadhán Quinn and Gleeson.

Hadden was sent to the sin bin after the latter penalty. The Irish defence was further stretched but unbroken as France knocked the ball on.

It was only a brief breather. France came again and made better use of their numerical advantage by releasing their backs. Hugh Cooney stopped the first opening but Theo Attissogbe found a route to the corner. It would be a double whammy as the TMO highlighted a high tackle in the build-up which saw Diarmuid Mangan join Hadden in the bin. Hugo Reus missed the conversion to leave it 23-19 on the hour.

France only had a couple of minutes to make the most of their two-man advantage. That they did; another penalty, another maul, and Nouchi breaking away to find the corner. Reus missed another touchline kick as France’s first lead was by the slightest of margins, 24-23.

Prendergast’s kicking game put Ireland on the front foot. An Irish maul was dragged down as they turned down the three points for another line-out. They ground it out over and back in front of the French posts as Quinn and McCarthy edged them closer before Brian Gleeson reached out and found the line. Prendergast made it 30-24.

France weren’t behind for long. They forced Ireland onto the retreat and Reus sent Enzo Benmegal into the corner. Reus put his two earlier misses behind him to nail the go-ahead kick, 31-30.

But France lost their discipline conceding a pair of kickable penalties. Prendergast missed the first, from distance, but the second, with two minutes remaining, split the posts.

It was a nervy finish when Ireland gave away possession and a penalty but France overthrew the lineout and Ireland’s winning record survived. Two from two and a trip to Italy next.

Ireland: Henry McErlean; James Nicholson, Hugh Cooney, John Devine, Hugh Gavin; Sam Prendergast, Fintan Gunne; George Hadden, Gus McCarthy (capt), Paddy McCarthy; Diarmuid Mangan, Conor O’Tighearnaigh; James McNabney, Ruadhán Quinn, Brian Gleeson.

Replacements: Danny Sheahan, George Morris, Fiachna Barrett, Evan O'Connell, Jacob Sheahan, Oscar Cawley, Harry West, Rory Telfer.

France: Louis Bielle-Biarrey; Théo Attissogbe, Nicolas Depoortere, Émilien Gailleton, Enzo Benmegal; Tom Raffy, Léo Carbonneau; Louis Penverne, Barnabé Massa, Zaccharie Affane; Hugo Auradou, Brent Liufau; Oscar Jegou, Lenni Nouchi, Marko Gazzotti.

Replacements: Thomas Lacombre, Luca Tabarot, Maïno Pakihivatau, Bastien Chinarro, Mathis Castro Ferreira, Hugo Reus, Arthur Mathiron, Mathis Ferté.

Referee: Angus Mabey (NZRU).

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Watch live coverage of Ireland v France (Saturday 2.15pm) on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player, follow our live blog on RTÉ.ie/Sport and the RTÉ News app, or listen to live commentary on RTÉ Radio 1.

Watch live coverage of England v Italy (Sunday, 3pm) on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player.