An energetic France outfit outmuscled the Irish 10-9 at the Stade de France on Saturday afternoon in soggy conditions. The pregame hype suggested that it would be a close fought and physical encounter between the two sides, and this proved to be the case. The game was dominated by errors from both teams and in the end the result came down to solidity in the set piece, ball retention and attrition as Ireland saw the back of four injured players by the end of the game.
Ireland were dominant in the first half and had a 3-9 lead at the break, before French captain Guilhem Guirado led his team to a strong revival. The men in green started off looking assured in defence against a high tempo French attack, and seemed to be strong in the set piece. They created a number of try scoring opportunities which they unfortunately failed to convert into points. Yet again, the Irish were unable to use this early dominance to close out the game, failing to score a single point in the second half.
Ireland, like last week against Wales, were the strongest in the opening quarter, despite losing possession in the French half on a number of occasions. A needless late hit from Yoann Maestri on Jonny Sexton gave him his first penalty opportunity, which he converted to make it 0-3 to the visitors.
A strong breakdown effort from the French continued to thwart the Irish attack before Sean O’Brien limped off on the twentieth minute with a serious looking injury, to be replaced by the capable Tommy O’Donnell. Ireland lost Dave Kearney seven minutes later to a suspected broken arm, as his team began to slow down a notch.
Ireland got back on track on 28 minutes with another penalty from Sexton to make it 6-0, only to concede a kickable penalty from the kick-off, which French outhalf Jules Plisson nailed to bring the score to 6-3. Ireland scored their final points of the game on the 37th minute following a powerful scrum deep in French territory. A final missed kick from Plisson brought the curtain down on a dreary first half.
The second half proved no better in terms of quality, as Ireland’s error count remained far too high in scoring positions. A wonderful inside break from Rob Kearney on fifty minutes was immediately turned into a French counter attack through an interception, and from there France’s ability to hold on to the ball proved to be stronger than Ireland’s abilities at the breakdown.
Dominant French Play
After Mike McCarthy was stretchered off with a neck injury, Ireland managed to hold off wave after wave of French attackers during a strong period from Les Bleus, with Damien Chouly coming close following some great phase play from France. His held up try attempt saw Ireland concede multiple scrum penalties to a reinforced French front row. This platform provided Maxime Medard an opportunity to dance past Robbie Henshaw and Tommy O’Donnell on the seventieth minute, to score under the posts. Plisson converted again to bring the score to 10-9.
An injury to Jonny Sexton in the build-up meant that it was going to be difficult for Ireland to come back in the last ten minutes, as the Leinster playmaker was replaced by Ian Madigan. This proved to be true as the French continued to dominate territory and possession, as had been the case throughout the second half, while Ireland continued to struggle to hold on to the ball, finishing the game with a disappointing turnover.
The result means that France now have two wins from their first two matches, and have uncovered some serious talent in their revamped squad, with the likes of Virimi Vakatawa and Wenceslas Lauret, as well as captain Guirado, putting in fine performances. Ireland, however, are left to count the cost of their errors. They now have played two matches in this year’s Championship, winning neither. On top of this, they must now deal with four very serious looking injuries, one of which is Jonny Sexton’s second in one week. Overall, French coach Guy Novés will be delighted to have toppled the defending champions in anticipation of their trip to Wales at the end of the month.