Ireland 26 – 14 France
Sean McMahon reporting from the Aviva Stadium
Ireland secured a bonus-point victory over France this afternoon at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium and the result ensures that Joe Schmidt’s side will be involved in the conversation around who will claim the championship next Saturday.
A lot of pressure was on this Ireland side going into this game due to their below-par performances and it’s difficult to gauge how much they have improved considering how desperately poor the French display was in Dublin.
The half-time stats showed Ireland had 77% possession and 89% territory in the opening 40 minutes and this resulted in three tries through Rory Best, Johnny Sexton and Jack Conan. In fact, it should have been more, but Ireland’s accuracy in attack, at times, left them down as it has done throughout this campaign.
Nevertheless, Ireland got the job done in the second half when a setpiece move saw Keith Earls burst through the French defence to secure the bonus point after the 56th minute as all France could muster were two late consolation tries from Yoann Huget and Arthur Iturria.
Torrential conditions before kick-off saw rain, sleet and snow swirl around a blustery Aviva Stadium and it was no surprise that both back-three units wanted to test each other out as the game began with a bout of kick tennis.
It was Ireland who won out on this little battle as Jordan Larmour, a late inclusion for Rob Kearney, identified space in the French backfield with a superb kick which the visitors could only put into touch to relieve the danger of a chasing Jacob Stockdale.
A lineout drive ensued which yielded a penalty advantage. Joe Schmidt’s side opted for the corner again and this time, an Iain Henderson take yielded a few metres before the ball was transferred to Rory Best who found space on the near side to crash over the line for the opening try of the game.
A cross-field kick from France led to a scary moment from an Irish perspective as Larmour and Damian Penaud both competed in the air for the ball. The two players failed to collect but the French winger reclaimed the bouncing ball to offload to Thomas Ramos to score but the try was ruled out as replays showed Penaud knocked the ball on when he initially attempted to catch it.
The home side continued to look dangerous as a lovely flat pass from Sexton put Stockdale into space but his chip over the top, which he has become renowned for, had too much zip on it as the ball went dead.
A poor French clearance led to a period of possession for Ireland close to the French line but they butchered a clear overlap on the near side of the pitch and France were able to turn the ball over.
However, as Jacques Brunel’s side were attempting to clear their lines, Cian Healy dived in to lay a hand on the ball for a potential grounding but after a TMO review, it was ruled that Healy knocked it on rather than apply downward pressure so a scrum was awarded to France.
A powerful carry from Healy got Ireland on the front foot and this period of possession at the midway point of the first half yielded a penalty which was kicked to the corner by Sexton as they looked for their second try. O’Mahony took the ball at the back of the lineout and France were once again penalised for offside.
Ireland went to the corner again but this time, the lineout was overthrown and the ball went forward off Sexton who attempted to retrieve the situation as France got out of jail once again.
France pressed the self destruct button in the 25th minute when they recklessly attempted to run the ball out from their own 22 when the safety of touch was a much more obvious option.
As a result, Les Bleus were smashed behind the gain line which was initiated by Larmour and the home side were able to turn over the ball. Although Ireland couldn’t get the try from the quick turnover in possession, a penalty was awarded and it was kicked to the corner.
A powerful lineout maul ensued and the ball was sent to Bundee Aki who was stopped just short of the French line. Again, Ireland managed to lose possession after the next few phases as their attack continued to misfire.
However, it certainly fired the next time Ireland had a lineout maul in France’s 22. Conor Murray sent the ball to Sexton who played the ball to Garry Ringrose outside him. The Ireland out-half ran his patented loop as he received the ball from Ringrose to go over for a try next to the posts.
Ireland almost made it three tries three minutes later when a Sexton up and under was superbly collected by Ringrose as he beat Ramos in the air.
The 24-year-old was hauled down but he used his momentum to slide over the line. Unfortunately, as he was sliding, the ball was dislodged momentarily from his grip and a knock on was awarded.
That didn’t deter Ireland as Jack Conan, who replaced the injured Josh van der Flier after 24 minutes, used his strength in the wide channels to power through a tiring French defence to score their third try of the game.
At the beginning of the second half, France went through 13 phases, a rare thing to happen in this game, but it ultimately came to nothing as they knocked the ball on just inside the Irish 22.
Les Bleus looked to have a little bit more about them early in the second half but their next attempt at a try was thwarted by Peter O’Mahony who won an excellent turnover on the deck.
That seemed to wake Ireland up as they went on the offensive immediately after. Dupont was smashed behind his own try line which gave Ireland an ideal attacking position with a 5m scrum.
The move eventually broke down so Ireland used their penalty advantage to go to the corner. A ball off the top saw Ireland carry hard and direct to get just short of the French line but again, the ball went forward at the crucial moment when O’Mahony wasn’t expecting a pass. This allowed Romain Ntamack to ease the pressure on his side with a clearing kick.
Ntamack’s kick went out at the 22 and from the resulting lineout, Ireland launched a simple but effective setpiece move.
CJ Stander took the ball and carried around the corner of the maul before sending a reverse pass back inside to Keith Earls. The Limerick man put on the afterburners to burst through a gap and secure the bonus-point for his side.
With the result wrapped up at the midway point of the second half, Ireland emptied their bench which saw the likes of Jack Carty, John Cooney, Ultan Dillane, Niall Scannell and John Ryan enter the fray.
Dorian Aldegheri saw yellow after France conceded numerous scrum penalties 5m from their own line. That was France’s 12th penalty concession in 68 minutes and Bamba had to enter the fray in place of Louis Picamoles so that the scrum could remain contested.
Remarkably, France won the scrum against the head and they were able to kick clear.
The final 10 minutes looked to have petered out until France got some much-needed consolation when Yoann Huget ran in for a try two minutes from time and Arthur Iturria crossed the whitewash off the back of a lineout maul with the clock in the red.
Ireland: Jordan Larmour, Keith Earls (Conway 75′), Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Jonathan Sexton (Carty 57′), Conor Murray (Cooney 57′), Cian Healy (Kilcoyne 51′), Rory Best (c) (Scannell 57′), Tadhg Furlong (Ryan 57′), Iain Henderson (Dillane 57′), James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier (Conan 24′), CJ Stander.
Replacements: Niall Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne, John Ryan, Ultan Dillane, Jack Conan, John Cooney, Jack Carty, Andrew Conway.
France: Thomas Ramos (Medard 63′), Damian Penaud, Mathieu Bastareaud, Gael Fickou, Yoann Huget, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont (Serin 72′), Jefferson Poirot (Falgoux 17′), Guilhem Guirado (Chat 72′), Demba Bamba (Aldegheri 12′ Bamba 20′), Felix Lambey (Willemse 63′), Sebastien Vahaamahina, Wenceslas Lauret (Alldritt 11′), Arthur Iturria, Louis Picamoles.
Replacements: Camille Chat, Etienne Falgoux, Dorian Aldegheri, Paul Willemse, Gregory Alldritt, Baptiste Serin, Anthony Belleau, Maxime Medard.