France 30 Ireland 24
AN early French onslaught proved to be decisive, as a brave Irish comeback came up just short, in a thriller of a Six Nations meeting at the Stade de France on Saturday evening.
France started at lightning pace, with a try after just 65 seconds from their captain and star man Antoine Dupont. The French took a quick lineout after Jamison Gibson-Park had kicked to touch, and after tighthead Uini Atonio trucked it up the middle the French went right, with out-half Romain Ntamack taking it into contact in the knowledge that his half-back partner would be running one of his trademark running support lines.
When he popped it back inside Dupont was there to gather and run in an excellent team score.
A poor knock-on from Caelan Doris presented France with another opportunity soon after, which allowed full-back Melvyn Jaminet to kick France into a 10-0 lead after only six minutes.
The whirlwind start was to continue though, and this time it was Irish fans celebrating. Joey Carbery’s kick-off was chased down by Mack Hansen and the Connacht wing brilliantly plucked the ball out of the Parisian air and was able to run in a fantastic try unopposed.
The high-octane nature of the game continued, with Jaminet again slotting another three-pointer in the 16th minute after the French pack had obliterated Ireland’s own lineout.
There may have been a temporary lull in the scoring, but there was no let-up in the collisions and physical ferocity on show, with France getting the better of these. Indeed, it was the home side who got the next scoring opportunity after a wonderful run by Damian Penaud down the right, which Jaminet slotted in the 35th minute.
And right on half-time Ireland conceded their eighth penalty of the half, due to a retreating scrum, and Jaminet did the needy once more to give France a deserved 19-7 lead at the break.
Jaminet scored a monster penalty in the 42nd minute to get the opening score of the second half, but only two minutes later Ireland got a lifeline when openside Josh van der Flier dived over after an attacking Irish maul had splintered the French pack.
Six minutes later and we were in classic territory, as Jamison Gibson-Park sniped at the back of a ruck, after a strong carry from Dan Sheehan, and he sold the big second row Paul Willemse a huge dummy, and the Leinster scrum-half was able to dive under the posts to bring it back to 22-21.
France immediately woke from their brief slumber, with prop Cyril Baille blasting through the Irish defensive line from close range to score in the 54th minute to get the French lead back out to six.
Munster’s Tadhg Beirne then kicked an amazing 50-22 off his left foot to give Ireland a huge attacking opportunity in the 67th minute, but the French stole the resultant lineout and cleared their lines.
Five minutes later Ireland engineered a penalty opportunity and the impressive Joey Carbery stroked the resultant kick between the French posts to make it 27-24 to set up a thrilling finale.
Ireland had come from 15 points down to get within three, but it looked game over when Jaminet crashed over the line in the 78th minute, only to be denied by a wonderful try-saving tackle by Sheahan, who managed to get his hand between the ball and the turf to prevent the touchline.
Unfortunately, the ref had been playing an advantage and Jaminet was able to add an easy three-pointer to make it a six-point game once more.
Ireland had one last chance to try and win it but they inexplicably kicked it away and France were left to breathe a huge sigh of relief.