Ireland see off France in Dublin in dominant display
Ireland 32 – 19 France
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Ireland edged closer to Six Nations glory this weekend, defeating France in Dublin. The fixture marked the first time that the first and second world ranked teams faced each other in the Six Nations. The hosts built on last weeks victory over Wales.
Ireland control first half but France an ever-present danger
France started strong with their usual confident play. The visitors were able to force a penalty inside five minutes, giving Thomas Ramos a chance to slot home three points.
However, it was Ireland that crossed the try line first. Connacht’s Finlay Bealham set up Hugo Keenan beautifully with a dummy offload, and the full-back had no trouble touching down.
France responded quickly with another penalty, but it was Damian Penaud that scored the visitors first try. Starting the attack himself in his own 22, he tore through the Irish defence to collect the offload at the end of the play from Anthony Jelonch.
Not to be outdone, Ireland came back within three minutes. A string of cross-field passes culminated in a pinpoint throw out wide from Ringrose to James Lowe. Lowe dove for the line and touched down, contorting himself around the corner flag in mid-air while being tackled by Damian Penaud.
A rare slip in discipline saw France’s Uini Atonio being shown yellow for a high tackle on Rob Herring on the 25-minute mark. With France reduced to 14 men, Ireland responded immediately, Andrew Porter smashing over the line next to the posts, giving Sexton an easy conversion.
Ireland almost earned themselves a bonus point before the break. A grubber from Keenan put him within inches of the line, but a swift tackle from Gael Fickou left the responsibility to finish to Mack Hansen. However, in what was likely the best tackle of the match, Antoine Dupont dragged the Connacht man away from the line and almost into touch, preventing a score.
Sexton instead kicked a penalty with the clock in the red to end the half. Ireland went into the break ahead 22-19.
Ireland take control after the break
Coming out of the gates, the fear for Ireland was that France would do what they had done so many times before: wear their opponents down with unyielding pace, skill, and physicality. However, this time round at least, that was not an option for the visitors.
While the scoring was much reduced in the second half, it was clear who the dominant side were. Ireland played the majority of the half in French territory, putting on a tremendous amount of pressure. It is a testament to the strength of the French defence that they weathered it as well as they did, conceding only eight points in the entire 40 minutes.
A rare mistake from Thomas Ramos saw his penalty just after the restart drop short. Ireland therefore drew the half’s first blood, Ross Byrne – who had replaced Sexton – slotting over a penalty on the hour.
France responded immediately with their only points of the half, Ramos making amends for his previous mistake with a drop goal.
Ireland continued to hammer away at the French defence, reaching the line multiple times. However a combination of French intransigence and a lack of clinicality on the part of the Irish, prevented them from scoring until ten minutes from the end.
Gary Ringrose, in an excellent display of skill and power, broke through three French defenders to touch down for Ireland’s bonus point try. The French were unable to respond and a knock-on from Ethan Dumortier ended proceedings.
Ireland’s Caelan Doris was awarded Player of the Match.
France an ever present threat despite poor performance
Ireland demonstrated why they occupy the number one spot this weekend, controlling the match from beginning to end. However, it is a testament to the sheer talent of the French team that, even playing rugby that lacked the flair and dynamism they so often bring to the table, they were still a serious threat right up to the end. Ireland may be number one, but they can by no means rest on their laurels when they are followed so closely by a side like France.
Elsewhere, Scotland did away with Wales to scoreline of 35-7, while England thrashed Italy 31-14.
Ireland: (1) Andrew Porter (2) Rob Herring (3) Finlay Bealham (4) Tadgh Beirne (5) James Ryan (6) Peter O’Mahony (7) Josh van der Flier (8) Caelan Doris (9) Connor Murray (10) Jonathan Sexton (11) James Lowe (12) Stuart McCloskey (13) Garry Ringrose (14) Mack Hansen (15) Hugo Keenan Replacements: (16) Ronan Kelleher (17) David Kilcoyne (18) Tom O’Toole (19) Iain Henderson (20) Jack Conan (21) Craig Casey (22) Ross Byrne (23) Bundee Aki
France: (1) Cyril Baille (2) Julien Marchand (3) Uini Atonio (4) Thibaud Flament (5) Paul Willemse (6) Anthony Jelonch (7) Charles Ollivon (8) Gregory Alldritt (9) Antoine Dupont (10) Romain Ntamack (11) Ethan Dumortier (12) Yoram Moefana (13) Gael Fickou (14) Damian Penaud (15) Thomas Ramos Replacements: (16) Gaetan Barlot (17) Reda Wardi (18) Sipili Falatea (19) Romain Taofifenua (20) Francois Cros (21) Sekou Macalou (22) Baptiste Couilloud (23) Matthieu Jalibert