France went to the top of the Six Nations table with a comprehensive 33-10 victory over Ireland at Stade de France.
The warning signs were there for the defending champions against Italy last week. That indifferent performance couldn’t be replicated against France in Paris, but that’s exactly what happened and Ireland paid the ultimate price.
They were troubled by France’s rush defence, and seemed to have no counter to it beyond hopeful grubbers which proved hopelessly ineffective.
It was hardly a complete performance from France either, but they took most of their chances and defended accurately and aggressively – which Ireland failed to do.
It took a yellow card for Ireland prop Cian Healy to crack open an abrasive but entertaining Six Nations Test. France scored twice in that 10-minute period, taking a 17-3 lead, and grabbing the momentum after Ireland had been resolute in defence prior to that.
William Servat powered over the line from close range for the first, while centre Yannick Jauzion profited from Ireland’s over-focus on Mathieu Bastareaud, who ran the dummy line and committed two tacklers, creating a hole in the defensive line for his midfield partner. Morgan Parra converted both scores to go with an earlier penalty to give his side a comfortable lead.
Ireland lost the structure they had exhibited prior to Healy’s ejection, and desperately tried to prise open France’s defensive line in the wide channels. Their they found players determined not to relinquish their lead. Ireland looked infinitely more threatening when they sought to break down the French resistance through multiple phases, but that approach wasn’t one they adopted nearly enough in that period to pose a sustained threat.
They had opportunities, the best of those coming when Gordan D’Arcy danced his way through numerous defenders, only for the move to fizzle out 10m short of the tryline. Then, just before half-time, they camped in the France red zone, but failed to convert that rare entry into points on the board.
France led 17-3 going down the tunnel, and having survived that late assault on their line, would have felt confident of putting Ireland away in the second half.
They had an opportunity to do so five minutes after the restart, but Vincent Clerc spilled the ball forward his attempt to gather and touch down, and later when impressive flyhalf François Trinh-Duc surged upfield only to see his excellent break undone by ordinary handling out wide.
They finally converted their dominance into a trip across the whitewash when Trinh-Duc threw a long cut-out pass to Bastareaud, who held off the attention of his marker with his tree trunk-like right arm and with his left floated a fine back-off-the-hand pass to Clément Poitrenaud, who was left with an unguarded path to goal.
Ireland then seized on a momentary lapse of concentration and scored through David Wallace. O’Gara converted to reduce the deficit to 17 points, but Parra continued his goal-kicking masterclass by slotting his 15th point to ease fears of a dramatic comeback. Frederic Michalak closed proceedings with a drop-goal.
On the evidence of this performance it will take a special effort to beat France, notwithstanding their penchant for capitulating away from home. They face Wales in Cardiff in a fortnight and victory there will put them in a strong position for the title. Ireland travel to Twickenham and will have to exponential improvements if they hope to stay in the hunt.
By Ryan Vrede