France climbed to the top of the Six Nations table after a strong defensive performance saw them beat Ireland 15-13 in Dublin on Sunday. DYLAN JACK reports.
The win saw France go level on six points with Wales, who are the only other team to have won their first two games of the tournament, with a superior points difference separating the two sides.
While France showed all their flair in last weekend’s bonus-point win against Italy, Sunday’s encounter was all about their grit and determination against an Ireland team that was desperate for a win. In holding out, France have shown once again why they should be considered serious contenders for this year’s title.
Andy Farrell’s team certainly caused France plenty of problems at both the set-piece and with their kicking game, but will rue a couple of defensive errors at key stages in the match.
As evidence of the arm wrestle that this game was, it took 20 minutes to open the scoring as both flyhalves missed their first attempts on goal, before Burns put Ireland ahead.
It looked as if the home side were getting some momentum when lock Bernard le Roux was yellow carded for a trip, before James Lowe came close to scoring, only for the TMO to spot that his right foot had grazed the touchline.
However, to France’s credit, they withstood everything Ireland could throw at them and took the lead against the run of play after stringing a few quick phases together to put captain Charles Ollivon away for the game’s first try.
Matthieu Jalibert converted and added a penalty to give France a 10-3 lead at half-time, but with plenty to work on in the second half.
The second period of play was as tightly contested as the first, but it was France who managed to extend their lead when fullback Brice Dulin evaded the tackle of Lowe and shifted the ball to Damian Penaud to score in the corner.
However, Ireland hit straight back when France poached a lineout but the ball went loose and hooker Ronan Kelleher showed great awareness to pounce and sprint over the tryline. That try seemed to spark something in the home side and they narrowed the gap to just two points when Ross Byrne knocked over a penalty.
A dramatic final 10 minutes saw Jalibert hit the poles with a penalty, before Ireland worked their way upfield, looking to earn a potential winning penalty. However, France’s excellently coached defence again came to the fore and they forced Ireland back behind the halfway line before winning a turnover and kicking the ball into touch.
Ireland – Try: Ronan Kelleher. Conversion: Billy Burns. Penalties: Burns, Ross Byrne.
France – Tries: Charles Ollivon, Damian Penaud. Conversion: Matthieu Jalibert. Penalty: Jalibert.
Ireland – 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Iain Henderson (c), 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Cian Healy.
Subs: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Will Connors, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Jordan Larmour.
France – 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Arthur Vincent, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Gabin Villiere, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon (c), 6 Anthony Jelonch, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Bernard le Roux, 3 Mohamed Haouas, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille.
Subs: 16 Pierre Bourgarit, 17 Hassane Kolingar, 18 Uini Atonio, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Dylan Cretin, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Anthony Bouthier, 23 Teddy Thomas.
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