Ireland lose opening two Six Nations games for first time despite battling display

Victory at the Aviva for France, who were pushed hard by the hosts
Ireland lose opening two Six Nations games for first time despite battling display

Cian Healy of Ireland after receiving a head injury during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship match at the Aviva Stadium. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ireland 13 France 15 

A BATTLING Irish side came up just short against a classy French outfit in an arm wrestle of a Six Nations encounter at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday afternoon. 

In losing they become the first Irish team to lose their opening two games in the Six Nations.

France’s 22-year-old out-half Mattieu Jalibert had a 100% record from the boot last weekend against Italy, but his first penalty attempt in the 10th minute from over 40m was hooked to the left.

Ireland had a really good opportunity to take the lead in the 17th minute but under pressure out-half Billy Burns made a horrible connection from a 37m effort and the ball sliced well away to the right, but thankfully for the Ulster number 10, he got a simpler effort just three minutes later and was able to execute it to give Ireland a deserved lead at the end of the first quarter.

Ireland then enjoyed a numerical advantage, as French second row Bernard Le Roux was yellow-carded in the 23rd minute for what was deemed a deliberate trip on Ireland’s winger Keith Earls, and Ireland almost took immediate advantage with the other winger James Lowe going over in the left corner only to be denied by the TMO for just about putting a trailing foot in touch.

France had been a non-entity as an attacking force to this point but in the 29th minute, they suddenly burst into life, with a wonderful try scored by their captain Charles Ollivon in the left corner. 

It had been a sweeping move, with their brilliant young half-backs Jalibert and Antoine Dupont heavily involved initially before centre Gael Fickou was able to capitalise on Jamison Gibson-Park’s defensive lapse to release his captain, who was loitering out wide, and the Toulon openside was able to run in a quality score.

Ireland's Garry Ringrose is tackled by Gregory Alldritt of France. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland
Ireland's Garry Ringrose is tackled by Gregory Alldritt of France. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Jalibert slotted a simple penalty in the 38th minute, and suddenly France looked in control of the tie, as they led 3-10 at the break.

France seemed capable of crucial power plays, however, and in the 54th minute, they worked one off a scrum just inside the Irish 22. 

Big carries from Fickou, Grégory Alldritt and Le Roux punched big holes in the Irish defence, and when France went right James Lowe failed to bring down Brice Dulin, who was then able to feed Damien Penaud on his shoulder for a simple run-in at the right corner.

Ireland quickly got right back into the game with a try out of nothing in the 57th minute when France stole an Irish lineout only for the ball to fall into the grateful hands of replacement hooker Ronan Kelleher who was able to cross over for an easy score in the right corner, which was brilliantly converted by Ross Byrne.

Before you knew it, it was just a two-point game, when Byrne slotting a penalty from range in the 64th minute, and the game was there to be won, and Jalibert struck the left hand upright from a long-range penalty soon after, which allowed Ireland to clear.

PRESSURE

The final minutes were tense, with the game very much on the line, but France were savvy enough to keep Ireland pegged back deep in their own half.

Ireland had one final chance to engineer a scoring opportunity, and Ireland went through the phases, getting as far as the French 10-metre line at one point. 

Ireland's Billy Burns. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Ireland's Billy Burns. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

However, Ireland started losing ground in the collisions and there was no sign of any line breaks that could have saved the tie. 

Ultimately there was to be no repeat of ‘le drop’ from three years ago and Ireland eventually turned the ball over and a jubilant France were able to kick the ball dead to consign Ireland to a second successive defeat.

Scorers for Ireland: Burns (1 pen), R Byrne (1 pen, 1 con), Kelleher (1 try) France: Jalibert (1 pen, 1 con), Ollivon and Penaud (1 try each)

IRELAND: Keenan, Earls, Ringrose, Henshaw, Lowe, Burns, Gibson-Park; Healy, Herring, Porter, Beirne, Henderson (c), Ruddock, Van der Flier, Stander.

Subs: R Byrne for Burns (41 HIA), E Byrne and Dillane for Healy and Henderson (42 HIA), Furlong for Porter (52), Kelleher for Herring (56), Healy for E Byrne (56), Larmour for Earls (67), E Byrne for Healy (69), Dillane for Henderson (72), Connors for van der Flier (74). 

FRANCE: Dulin, Penaud, Vincent, Fickou, Villiere, Jalibert, Dupont; Baille, Marchand, Haouas, Le Roux, Willemse; Jelonch, Ollivon (c), Alldritt.

Subs: Antonio for Haouas (59), Cretin and Thomas for Jelonch and Penaud (67), Taofifenua for Willemse (70), Bourgarit and Kolingar for Baille and Marchand (75). 

Referee: Luke Pearce (England).

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