Ireland recorded their first win over France since 2003 as they started their RBS Six Nations campaign with a 30-21 triumph at Croke Park.
Duncan Bech reports for PA Sport that Gordon D’Arcy’s try in the 66th minute finally paid to French resistance after the two teams had provided plenty of entertainment on the opening day of the tournament.
Jamie Heaslip and skipper Brian O’Driscoll also crossed for the home team, while fly-half Ronan O’Gara converted all three on his way to a personal haul of 15 points.
France threatened throughout to upset their hosts, though scores from Imanol Harinordoquy and Maxime Medard proved to be in a losing cause.
At least Marc Lievremont’s side can return home to ponder the positives in defeat, not least the performance of Lionel Beauxis in the problem position of fly half.
Ireland too have plenty to be happy about – their success ending a seven-match losing run to Les Bleus, including suffering last-minute heartache the last time they had met at Croke Park.
Once again there was little to choose between the two, the Irish holding the upper hand at the break by a 13-10 scoreline after a try apiece – France the first to get over.
Responding to O’Gara’s penalty that had broken the deadlock inside three minutes, the visitors threatened the line on several occasions before Harinordoquy finally found a way through.
The number eight accepted Julien Malzieu’s inside pass to cross in the corner to finish a move that had flowed from right to left, Beauxis adding the extras from a tight angle.
Foolishly the French gave three points straight back, an infringement from the re-start allowing O’Gara to make it 7-6, though he missed another shot at the posts soon after.
However, Heaslip’s try did put Declan Kidney’s troops ahead, the forward showing a fine turn of pace to cut down the middle before throwing an outrageous side step that gave him the time and space to beat Clement Poitrenaud to the line.
O’Gara converted but Beauxis’ long range drop goal with the final kick of the first half meant the game was firmly in the balance.
Despite the narrow deficit, Lievremont kept his players in the dressing room to give them a dressing down at the break, though his words appeared to fall on deaf ears as they conceded soon after the re-start.
Rolling back the years, O’Driscoll produced a moment of magic to break through the first line of defence before a step off the left foot fooling Malzieu and giving him an easy run-in next to the posts.
The extra two came from O’Gara’s boot but the number 10 was not so hot on his next kick, a weak effort leading to turnover ball that gave the French renewed hope.
Harinordoquy’s burst caught Ireland short of numbers and from the next phase Beauxis produced a superbly weighted kick to the corner that bounced beautifully for Medard to take and touch down without breaking stride.
The fly-half failed with the conversion but did not miss with a drop goal effort, making it 20-18 with 25 minutes still to play.
In the end Ireland held their nerve, though, replacement D’Arcy having enough strength to force his way over from close range to give his side some daylight. Beauxis and O’Gara traded late penalties to add further points at the end of an absorbing match – a fine advert for Northern hemisphere rugby.
Afterwards, O’Driscoll played down the win.
He said: “We’ve gained some momentum but while it’s France we’ve beaten and they’re top-class opposition, we shouldn’t get carried away.
“You can’t win a Six Nations in the first game but you can lose it in the first game. Essentially we’re where we want to be after one match.
“We’re happy with our performance and we’ll enjoy this win, but from tomorrow it’s all about Italy.”
Ireland coach Declan Kidney saluted his players.
“Any day you get the better of France is a great day to be enjoyed by everyone. It’s a privilege for us to be here,” he said.
Meanwhile, France coach Marc Lievremont blamed indiscipline for the outcome.
“I’m exceptionally disappointed. Both the players and coaches are frustrated because we had high hopes for this match,” he said.
“We wanted to start the Six Nations well. There was a lack of discipline, especially early on. I find it hard to explain.
“Ireland were always making us play catch-up rugby, which is difficult to do at Croke Park.
“We produced some good moves and kicked two drop-goals but made too many bad choices and didn’t finish our chances.
“We felt a sense of urgency because we were behind and they were able to break through our defence.
“Ireland are a very experienced team and they work together.”Tweet