More pain in Paris as Irish suffer heavy defeat
Ireland’s ambition of defending the Grand Slam met a grim and brutal end as France coasted to an agonisingly-familiar 33-10 victory amid sub-zero temperatures in Paris.
All week the Irish had stressed the importance of preventing the RBS 6 Nations favourites from establishing an unassailable lead, which they managed to triumphant effect in 2006 and 2008.
But the same scenario unfolded yet again with an irresistible France surging 17-3 ahead by half-time with tries from William Servat and Yannick Jauzion.
Ten of those points arrived while prop Cian Healy was in the sin-bin, guilty of an early tackle on Francois Trinh-Duc, with the kicking of Morgan Parra also keeping the scoreboard active.
Parra stoked up the sides’ rivalry yesterday by accusing Ireland of being perennial cheats and voicing his lack of admiration for the champions, and today he stuck the boot in on the pitch with a near-flawless display headlined by 15 points.
France, expertly marshalled by fly-half Trinh-Duc, were magnificent as they stunned the shellshocked Irish with a mixture of power and ingenuity.
A try from Clement Poitrenaud and Parra’s kicking added to the post-interval carnage to underline the gulf in class and the Les Bleus’ title credentials.
Victory will taste all the sweeter knowing that Ireland arrived in Paris genuinely believing they could end their decade-long wait for success at the Stade de France.
Instead, Brian O’Driscoll’s side utterly failed the first significant examination of their title defence to end their 12-match unbeaten run dating back to November 2008.
Given France’s propensity for imploding, the race for the Six Nations is not over yet but Ireland were horribly exposed this afternoon and this defeat was far more painful than 2006 or 2008.
Both of those matches witnessed courageous fightbacks that almost reeled in the French, but apart from David Wallace’s 65th-minute try they did not have the ability or will to respond today.
They trudged off shellshocked at the final whistle, yet a promising opening suggested they might finally be ready to improve their record of just one win in Paris in 28 years.
Powerful early runs from Stephen Ferris, included after missing out against Italy because of a knee injury, and Jamie Heaslip swept them five metres short of the line.
France’s defence reacted sharply, however, with Jauzion bottling up O’Driscoll before the attack became lateral and fizzled out.
Gordon D’Arcy was denied a try by the bounce of the ball after he charged into space and chipped ahead with winger Vincent Clerc, so often Ireland’s try-scoring nemesis, coming to the rescue.
Jerry Flannery was lucky to stay on the pitch after referee Wayne Barnes failed to punish him for a trip on winger Alexis Palisson.
The pendulum swung as Imanol Harinordoquy used his bulk to make ground, resulting in a yellow card for Healy as he held back the supporting Trinh-Duc.
Parra landed the penalty before a lineout catch and drive secured France 10 yards with the pressure then cranked up by four successive five-metre scrums.
Ireland, a man down and buckling ominously, conceded on two of them before France went wide, drawing defenders into a maul and then exploiting a large gap in front of the posts by sending Servat over.
Parra converted but a penalty from Ronan O’Gara reduced the deficit to 10-3 - until France produced their second try the on the half-hour mark.
Mathieu Bastareaud bulldozed his way through midfield and was stopped 10 metres short, but the ball found its way to Jauzion who slipped over untroubled.
The conversion was kicked by Parra and Ireland’s problems mounted with the departure of injured full-back Rob Kearney.
Trailing 17-3, O’Gara declined two shots at goal in a pulsating end to the first half that saw France’s whitewash come under sustained attack from short-range drives.
The TMO declined to give Clerc, who has crossed seven times in five matches against Ireland, a try five minutes after the restart but the champions continued to struggle.
Spending increasing amounts of time deep in their own half, they saw the impressive Trinh-Duc race inches short before Keith Earls put his side under pressure when he spilt a quickly-taken mark - summing up Ireland’s afternoon.
Bastareaud showed strength to set up France’s third try, slipping the scoring pass to Poitrenaud with Parra converting before the Clermont scrum-half added an audacious drop-goal.
Ireland replied with a try by David Wallace in the 65th minute, set up initially by Ferris with O’Driscoll producing the decisive pass and O’Gara converting.
But there was no fightback this time as substitute Frederic Michalak landed a drop goal to land the final blow.