Dominant Ireland keep Six Nations title hopes alive after bonus point win over abject France
Ireland 26 France 14
Not one of the classic Test matches, but be grateful for small mercies.
The apocalyptic snowstorm that attended the scene in the warm-up moved off as quickly as it had arrived. The rain that came instead in the second half didn’t help, but it wasn’t a game changer. And Ireland managed another win, heading for a record in the Championship until France’s last points’ burst. And the win was topped off with a bonus point secured in the third quarter. All of which keeps the pot boiling going to Cardiff next Saturday.
On the injury front Ireland seemed to get a free pass aside from Josh van der Flier with a leg injury. Though the late withdrawal of Rob Kearney with a calf issue is an issue to be sorted. All in all, an improvement on what has gone before in this campaign.
Between stoppages for injuries – France had lost two men permanently and one temporarily in the first quarter alone – and referrals to the TMO, the first half became an endurance test. By the time referee Ben O’Keefe blew it up, 50 minutes of real time had elapsed.
Many of them had been spent in or around the France 22. At first the battle was to control the loose ball on a greasy surface; then for Ireland it was to keep France under pressure long enough for them to crack. And the away side? You felt in the end they were happy to concede a try just to get back to the half way line.
There were three of them in that first 40. There could have been another two with Cian Healy and Garry Ringrose being knocked back on referrals upstairs. Fair enough – at least on the Ringrose effort after he had done brilliantly to reclaim a Johnny Sexton up and under, and scramble to the line. He lost it forward in the transfer though. On another day with different officials, Healy’s effort could have got a positive response as he seemed to roll the ball over the line.
Whatever, it was time consuming but for Ireland at least not head-wrecking. Their set-piece was very good though it was a struggle to get what they wanted out of the maul. Lots of grunt but France consistently did well to shut it down.
That defensive efficiency only manifested itself after they had conceded to Rory Best, sneaking over in the corner off a maul inside three minutes. By the time Sexton got over just after the half hour – he wrapped around in midfield after a maul had stalled – it felt like the men in green were magnetically drawn to the Havelock Square end of the stadium.
The third came three minutes before the break, with a fine finish from Jack Conan who did well when he came on Josh van der Flier, who never recovered from having been dumped out of a ruck a few metres from the French line.
So 19 points down at the break, with some wind assistance to come, France determined they could do what Ireland did and invade the other end of the field. And they started well enough. When it ended with a fine turnover won by Peter O’Mahony it shifted the momentum back to what the crowd had been accustomed to in the first half.
Again Ireland set up the position, again they had a prime attacking set-piece after Ringrose had nailed Antoine Dupont in the French in-goal area. But despite a heap of grunt, they seemed to be going nowhere. Then, having been nudged back towards the 10m mark, from a lineout Ireland struck perfectly. CJ Stander broke off the back and dragged Demba Bamba out of position at pillar to put the trailing Keith Earls home from 40 metres.
That was the bonus point, which – with a short turnaround to Cardiff – opened the lock on the bench allowing Sexton, Murray, Best and Henderson to get off and rest their legs. They were well wrapped up by the time Yoann Huget finished a well worked try for France with a few minutes left. With time up the ref referred another touchdown from a French driving maul. The stadium was half empty by the time the thumbs up were given to Camille Chat.
Ireland: J Larmour; K Earls (A Conway 76), G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton (J Carty 58), C Murray (J Cooney 58); C Healy (D Kilcoyne 51), R Best (capt)(N Scannell 58), T Furlong, I Henderson (U Dillane 58), J Ryan, P O’Mahony, CJ Stander, J van der Flier (J Conan 24)
France: T Ramos (M Medard 63); D Penaud, M Bastareaud, G Fickou, Y Huget; R Ntamack (A Belleau 76), A Dupont (B Serin 72)J Poirot (E Falgoux 17), G Guirado (C chat 72), D Bamba (D Aldegheri, blood 13-20; 64; yc 69-79), F Lambey (P Willemse 64), S Vahaamahina, W Lauret (G Alldritt 11), L Picamoles (D Bamba temp 69-79), A Iturria
Referee: B O'Keefe (NZ)