Flawless Sexton the hero as scrappy Ireland edge past France
Ireland 18 France 11
Roses are red, violets are blue, whatever England can do, Ireland can too.
This was ugly but, for Ireland, the result was beautiful. In two weeks, unbeaten England and Ireland will meet in Dublin with the 2015 Six Nations title effectively at stake.
This was a day when Jonathan Sexton kept his head and, on St Valentine's Day, gave a performance that endeared him more than ever to his Irish fans.
He didn't last the pace - a bloody nose forced him off for ten minutes in the second-half of a gripping contest.
But his five successful kicks, either side of his second-half departure with a bloodied nose, were enough to secure the victory.
He was man of the match; after three months out with concussion trouble, he returned here to orchestrate matters as nonchalantly as a fellah who had just wandered in from the street.
His was an unforgettable contribution. The game was forgettable; the occasion was not.
France threatened with a late spurt but Ireland, clever and controlled for most of the piece, in contrast to opponents who were ragged and raucous throughout, held firm to claim their first Aviva win against Les Bleus.
France, in a full-blooded opening salvo, struck first blood, as it were, when Jack McGrath was penalised from the opening scrum after a typical opening kick-fest from both teams; France kicked to the corner but Mathieu Bastareaud was held up by, amongst others, the irrepressible Sexton.
Round one to the Irish out-half as, again, the French behemoth led with the elbow, as he did last March when concussing the Irish out-half in that unforgettable championship decider. Sexton never flinched.
Ireland lost an early scrum penalty, then won one; Jamie Heaslip was impinged at the lineout and Sexton, easing into the contest, lined up the 13th minute kick.
He didn't need luck as his kick arrowed through the posts for a 3-0 advantage.
Ireland were sloppy from the restarted play; Kearney spilled and was isolated in possession; Camille Lopez levelled matters as we hit the 17th minute with room to spare from his 40m kick.
France messed up their own restart defence; hooker Guilhem Guirado dumbly loitered as Tommy Bowe won Sexton's restart; the Irishman re-established the lead; 6-3.
Then Kearney smacked his opposite number Scott Spedding and ball after a Conor Murray box-kick; Ireland kicked for the corner; France won a ruck turnover; they were getting the bodies in.
Sexton nailed his third successive punt for 9-3 with seven minutes left to the break; it reflected their greater intent and cohesion, with the out-half conducting matters as if he'd never been away.
The battle on the ground was intense and Englishman Wayne Barnes had no favourites; Sean O'Brien was pinged and Lopez narrowed the margin to 9-6 just minutes later.
Back came Ireland; France offside again and Sexton made it 12-6 as France, belatedly, got a team warning for excessive infringements.
Ireland's high-tempo game was extracting profit as the sides headed for half-time oranges; they visited the opponents' 22 on 18 occasions; France, in contrast, hit the red zone but once.
But there were no line-breaks; and 15 penalties reflected an ugly game.
It got uglier, Sexton and Bastareuad exited after they drew blood from the other; it reflected the grisly nature of the game.
France were in disarray, clinging on. Ian Madigan edged Ireland to 15-6 in the 50th minute and one sensed that Ireland had their foot on the Frenchmen's collective throats.
Back came France; Peter O'Mahony ripped from replacement Remi Tales as they threatened the line.
But their indiscipline remained an issue; Pascal Pape saw yellow for kneeing an exposed Jamie Heaslip in the back; at the same time, Sexton returned from the concussion bin as his side prepared for the final push.
His first act was to kick another French penalty concession for an Irish throw; his next was to bounce a poor pass off Jared Payne's face when Simon Zebo was screaming wider with the line at his mercy.
Suddenly Ireland started to implode; Heaslip's knee gave out, Mike Ross conceded two scrum penalties and Rory Best was binned for tripping Thierry Dusautoir; Sean O'Brien lost a lineout as his side gulped for air.
France had a penalty attempt but Lopez somehow missed as we entered the final quarter; it mirrored the ineptitude of the day. Billed as a test match, it resembled instead a trial.
France, yet again, conceded a penalty; Sexton didn't hesitate to nominate the posts; he didn't hesitate to dissect them.
The unpronounceable Taofifenua threatened an unbelievable finish as he finished in the game's death throes but the gap on he scoreboard was too gaping. Mercifully, Ireland held out.
In essence, he gap between the teams was pretty vast, too. The side that know how to win did so for a ninth successive time. Winning is becoming second nature to this side.
Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe, J Payne, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton (I Madigan 45-55), C Murray; J McGrath (C Healy (63), R Best (S Cronin 73), M Ross (M Moore 63), D Toner (I Henderson 75), P O'Connell, P O'Mahony, S O'Brien (S Cronin 66), J Heaslip (J Murphy 60).
France: S Spedding; Y Huget, M Bastareaud (R Tales 46-53), W Fofana (R Lemaret 16-23), T Thomas (R Lemaret 33); C Lopez, R Kockott (M Parra 66); E Ben Arous (V Debaty 50), G Guirado (B Kayser 50), R Slimani (U Atonio 50), P Pape (R Taofifenuia 65), Y Maestri, T Dusautoir, D Chouly (L Goujon 73), B Le Roux.
Referee: W Barnes (England)