Wednesday 21 March 2018

Ireland three-in-a-row chances in pieces as France edge attritional encounter

France 10 Ireland 9

Ireland have been beaten at the Stade de France
Ireland have been beaten at the Stade de France
Sean O'Brien may not appear in the Six Nation again in 2016

Nick Purewal

It looks highly unlikely that Ireland will become the first side to ever win three Six Nations championships in a row after they were beaten by France at the Stade de France.

Johnny Sexton posted three penalties to ensure Ireland's half-time lead, but head coach Joe Schmidt will have been furious with his side's sloppiness in possession.

Ireland botched a host of half-chances to score, and also lost Sean O'Brien, Dave Kearney and Mike McCarthy to injury.

There was only one score in a bruising  second half and it was the pivotal one.

Maxime Medard's 70th minute try after Ireland conceded a succession of penalties at scrum time under their own posts. It was enough to give France a one-point win.

Ireland's failure to capitalise on first-half dominance was the difference

Schmidt's men patched up their sizeable walking wounded contingent to face France in Paris in the RBS 6 Nations just six days after their 16-16 draw with Wales.

Johnny Sexton shook off a heavy blow to his neck and Andrew Trimble a shoulder complaint, while Rob Kearney and Sean O'Brien have beaten the hamstring problems that kept them out of last weekend's tournament-opener.

Les Bleus started inexperienced props Jefferson Poirot and Uini Atonio amid six changes from their unconvincing 23-21 victory over Italy, with replacement lock Paul Jedrasiak pledging France would "bleed for the shirt".

A huge up and under in the fifth minute from Sexton led to a huge fetch from Robbie Henshaw deep in the French 22. Ireland opted for the corner when France were penalised at ruck time but the Connacht star knocked on with Ireland five metres from the French line.

Rob Kearney and Andrew Trimble somehow escaped injury despite a nasty-looking mid-air collision, before Mike McCarthy fumbled Sexton's ill-advised midfield pass.

Yoann Maestri was very lucky not be binned for a cheap, and very late hit, on Sexton in the 15th minute. Ireland had a penalty advantage and the fly-half dusted himself down to put Ireland in front.

Ireland were dealing with France's offensive movements comfortably and they showed their frustration as Damien Chouly rolled Jared Payne's neck at ruck time.

Ireland suffered a big blow at the mid-point of the half when Sean O'Brien crumpled to the ground after trying to step off his right leg. He was replaced by Tommy O'Donnell having suffered a suspected knee injury which could put his participation in the remainder of the Six Nations in doubt.

Dave Kearney took an enormous hit for Guilhem Guirado and it was very high. The referee took no action but Ireland carried on the attack and earned a penalty which Sexton slotted to give Ireland a 6-0 lead.

Kearney was forced off as a result of the heavy hit and was replaced by Fergus McFadden.

France responded soon afterwards when Mike McCarthy was slow to roll away from ruck and Jules Plisson gave them three points they scarcely deserved.

Plisson could have levelled matters with six minutes to the break but his drop goal was to the left and wide.

McCarthy became the third Irish player to be called ashore with an injury after he suffered a laceration over his right eye. Donnacha Ryan replaced him as a blood substitute.

France were exerting some pressure but Ireland were dominating at scrum time and the hosts were penalised once more. From outside the French 10 metre line, Sexton dissected the uprights for his third successful kick of the afternoon.

Ireland would have been hoping to keep their six-point lead to the interval but they didn't deal with the restart and when Rob Kearney failed to release it gave Plisson the chance to cut the deficit but he couldn't do it.

France threw replacement props Rabah Slimani and Eddy Ben Arous into the fray just four minutes in the second half, desperate to alter the scrummaging status quo.

Ireland had dominated the set-piece up to that point, but the fresh legs and lungs of the new arrivals allowed Les Bleus to blast back at the next scrum.

Sexton's superlative punt to the corner forced France to hand Ireland a fine attacking lineout, but again the visitors coughed up the ball cheaply after punching the line.

France broke at pace from a turnover, with Ireland stretched, only for Camara to throw forward out of the tackle.

Rob Kearney and Henshaw both knocked on attempting to retrieve Sexton's high bomb in France's 22. Henshaw ghosted through to touch down, but not even the raucous crowd expected a try.

Instead France were left to drive Ireland off the five-metre scrum, and then clear their lines with the resulting penalty.

France declined a kick at goal and went to the corner in the 63rd minute when they won a penalty with Ireland temporarily down to 14-men, when Mike McCarthy was the victim of a sickening clash with Jack McGrath which forced him to be stretchered off in a neck brace.

Donnacha Ryan came in and Ireland heroically repelled the French onslaught for three minutes. The phase of play ended with Ireland holding France up under their own posts.

The TMO had a long look and was urged by the crowd to award it but a scrum was the result.

Ireland conceded a series of penalties and lost Jonathan Sexton to a neck injury and then they lost the lead.

France managed to shuffle the ball out from the base of the scrum and Maxime Medard forced his way over and allowed Plisson to kick the hosts into a 10-9 lead.

Ian Madigan's botched his first play of the game as he kicked his restart into touch. France were immediately back in the Irish half with the clock ticking down.

France closed out the game in the final minutes with Ireland left counting the cost of a disappointing defeat.

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