|Ireland: (3) 13|
|Try: Kelleher Con: R Byrne Pen: Burns, R Byrne|
|France: (10) 15|
|Tries: Ollivon, Penaud Cons: Jalibert Pen: Jalibert|
France kept their Grand Slam aspirations intact with a scrappy 15-13 win over Ireland, who remain without a win in this year’s Six Nations.
Charles Ollivon scored the sole try of the first half after a passage of attacking brilliance from the visitors.
Damian Penaud touched down for the second try in the 55th minute.
Ireland began to show some fight and Ronan Kelleher’s opportunistic try and a Ross Byrne penalty set-up a grandstand finish, but France held on.
Far from their free-flowing best, Fabien Galthie’s side found two moments of real flair in a match low on quality, and that ultimately proved the difference between the sides.
Ireland will cling onto the heart that they showed in the final quarter to ensure the game went down to the wire for a second week, but the damage was done in the 60 minutes previous.
It is a first win in Dublin for France in a decade, and a first defeat at home for Ireland head coach Andy Farrell.
A result and performance that will do little to support the belief from inside the camp that this is an Irish side on an upward curve.
Rare magical moment gives French first-half ascendancy
Three points from the opening 40 minutes was another case study in arguably the biggest issue hurting Andy Farrell’s side.
As was the case in Cardiff last weekend, Ireland appeared comfortable in all facets of the game and enjoyed plenty of front-foot ball without ever looking like they would, or even could, build a sizeable lead.
By no means did the hosts dominate France, but for the first 25 minutes they were in the ascendancy – showing enough promise in attack to suggest they could at least go the distance with the pre-tournament favourites.
Their lack of cutting edge is a major concern, and when they did get over the line in Dublin, James Lowe’s sliding effort was ruled out as replays showed his foot to be in touch.
Defensively solid, Ireland targeted the French line-out and won possession three times off their opposition’s set-piece while defensively they brought pressure around the ruck and kept France’s potent attack in check.
Fly-half Billy Burns badly shanked his first kick on goal before converting an easy penalty to put his side in front and, when Bernard le Roux was sent to the sin-bin on 24 minutes for tripping Keith Earls, the stage was set for Ireland to hammer home their advantage on a solid foundation.
Ireland almost pull off unlikely victory
Last week against Italy, France put on a swashbuckling display of running rugby that supported their pre-tournament billing as favourites.
Such action was in much shorter supply in Dublin, where the French nearly threw away the win that appeared to be a near certainty before the impressive Brice Dulin skipped out of Lowe’s tackle to send Penaud into the corner.
The wing’s try came at the end of France’s most impressive period, which began seconds after the restart when Julien Marchand bulldozed his way to within inches of the Irish tryline, only for Dupont’s pass on the next phase to bounce off the unsuspecting head of Paul Willemse.
Ireland were staring deep into the barrel of a comprehensive and damaging defeat, until an untidy line-out saw the ball bounce perfectly for replacement hooker Kelleher, who gladly accepted the invitation to show his impressive turn of pace and bring his side back into the contest.
With a newfound momentum Ireland rallied, Byrne’s penalty brought them to within two points and suddenly a win, unthinkable 10 minutes before, was within touching distance.
As the minutes ticked down the hosts were given one more turn in possession, tasked with driving down the field to set-up position for a Byrne drop-goal that would have drawn parallels with Johnny Sexton’s 2018 match-winning effort in Paris.
But on this occasion there was to be no fairytale ending, with Dupont winning a turnover on halfway, allowing Dulin to kick the ball dead and send his side top of the table.
Ireland: Keenan; Earls, Ringrose, Henshaw, Lowe; Burns, Gibson-Park; Healy, Herring, Porter; Beirne, Henderson (capt); Ruddock, Van der Flier, Stander.
Replacements: Kelleher, E Byrne, Furlong, Dillane, Connors, Casey, R Byrne, Larmour.
France: Dulin; Penaud, Vincent, Fickou, Villiere; Jalibert, Dupont; Baille, Marchand, Haouas; Le Roux, Willemse; Jelonch, Ollivon (capt), Alldritt.
Replacements: Bourgarit, Kolingar, Atonio, Taofifenua, Cretin, Serin, Bouthier, Thomas.
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Touch judges: Wayne Barnes (England) & Christophe Ridley (England)
TMO: Tom Foley (England)