France became the ninth nation to qualify for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup, and need a point at home to Scotland next week to claim their first European Championship title since 2011, after overcoming resistant Ireland 24-10 at the Morton Stadium.
The significant damage was done in the first half when, with the strong Santry wind behind them, Les Bleus posted 18 points without reply, Ireland at one stage clinging on when heroically defending six consecutive sets.
With the elements in their favour in the second period, the Wolfhounds turned it into a contest when impressive Ethan Ryan went over, but Alrix da Costa’s second touchdown, darting over from acting half back, settled the contest and sparked celebrations that France would be competing for the Paul Barriere trophy in three years’ time.
French skipper, Jason Baitieri commented: “The primary objective was to qualify for the 2021 World Cup. That’s done and, hopefully, with a good crowd behind us in Carcassonne we should be looking to finish this tournament on a high. We started the game well and controlled it the way we wanted to, but Ireland showed a lot of heart in the second half so I’m proud of our effort and commitment.
“The French Federation has put a lot into getting to the World Cup, the infrastructure is developing, we are heading in the right direction and we want to go there and be really competitive.”
For the hosts, Lewis Bienek was strong in the early stages. Scott Grix made the first half break and Jack Higginson cleverly kept the ball in play, but Ireland were penalised at marker. Mickael Goudemand went close and da Costa burrowed his way over from close in, with Tony Gigot converting.
At the start of the second half, on the back of another big run from George King, Finn’s kick was reeled in by Ryan’s leap and twist over in the corner. Finn went wide with the goal attempt, but that same, left-sided route becoming the host’s modus operandi.
With eight minutes to play, Ireland fashioned a potential lifeline when Dec O’Donnell released Finn who found Greg McNally, Grix grubbered for the line, and the chasing McNally gathered to score. Finn’s conversion reduced the gap to 14 points. That’s how it ended, although Ireland’s spirit was summed-up late on, when Escare broke clear over 80 metres but was reeled in by Ed O’Keefe.
Their superior points’ difference means Ireland now need only a draw in Wrexham next week, to ensure World Cup qualification.
“We wanted to win the tournament but it’s out of our hands now,” said Ireland head coach Stuart Littler. “We showed some resilience and character, but the first half took too much out of our tanks. “In the second half, we didn’t execute as well as we’d practiced but full respect to the boys, they turned up and had a dig.”
IRELAND 10 – Scott Grix, Ed O’Keefe, James Bentley, Jack Higginson, Ethan Ryan, Gregg McNally, Liam Finn, George King, Declan O’Donnell, Liam Byrne, Tyrone McCarthy, Will Hope, Lewis Bienek. Subs: Peter Ryan, Ronan Michael, Gareth Gill, Michael Ward. Tries: Ryan (44), McNally (72). Goals: Finn 1/2.
FRANCE 24 – Tony Gigot, Morgan Escare, Hakim Miloudi, Bastien Ader, Paul Marcon, Lucas Albert, Theo Fages, Jason Baitieri, Alrix da Costa, Romain Navarette, Benjamin Jullien, Rhys Curran, Mickael Goudemand. Subs: William Barthau, Lambert Belmas, Thibaud Margalet, Bastien Canet. Tries: Da Costa (6, 67), Marcon (10), Ader (28. Goals: Gigot 4/5
Referee: Scott Mikalauskas : Penaltys: 10-10 : Half time: 0-18 : Man of the Match – Alrix da Costa
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP 2018 TABLE
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP 2018 FIXTURES
Saturday 10 November – France v Scotland – Stade Albert Domec, Carcassone (kick off 6pm)
Sunday 11 November – Wales v Ireland – Racecourse Ground, Wrexham (kick off 3pm)