Ireland put one hand on the Six Nations trophy with a 51-24 win against Italy on Saturday.
The Rome result means France must now beat Scotland by 24 points or more to defend their title.
Needing to increase their points difference in order to put pressure on the Tricolores, the Irish ran the ball from everywhere and scored eight excellent tries.
However, a lapse of concentration near the end allowed Italy to claim two five-pointers of their own that would have been celebrated all around France. Irish flyhalf Ronan O’Gara may also regret missing four conversion attempts that cost his side further valuable points.
In saying that, it was still a slick performance from Brian O’Driscoll’s side.
With Italy leading 6-3, the Irish forced a turnover and Dave Wallace broke away. He found support from Simon Easterby who sent Shane Horgan down the right-hand touchline. The winger took the tackle just before the tryline and gave Easterby the try-scoring pass.
Gordon D’Arcy sparked Ireland’s second try when he slipped a tackle and released Denis Hickie. The winger offloaded to O’Driscoll who put Girvan Dempsey away in the left-hand corner.
The rest of the first half was evenly matched, with Italy clawing their way back to 13-12. However, the Irish struck a critical blow seconds before the break when D’Arcy took a suspiciously forward-looking pass from Hickie to go in next to the posts. O’Gara slotted his first conversion of the day to make it an eight-point ball game.
The third quarter was one-way traffic. Dempsey grabbed his second try, breaking through the middle, before Horgan scored in the right-hand corner. Hickie and O’Gara then both got over the tryline in quick succession to make it 46-12 after 60 minutes.
The Irish lost momentum in the final quarter and it was Italian captain Margo Bortolami who scored with seven minutes to go, after collecting a cross kick.
Hickie scored his second try soon after, only for Italian fullback Roland De Marigny to snatch seven points away from Ireland with a try just before full-time.
Ireland – Tries: Girvan Dempsey (2), Simon Easterby, Gordon D’Arcy, Shane Horgan, Denis Hickie (2), Ronan O’Gara. Conversions: Ronan O’Gara (4). Penalty: O’Gara.
Italy – Tries: Margo Bortolami, De Marigny. Conversion: Andrea Scanavacca. Penalties: Romiro Pez (2). Drop goals: Pez (2).