France win piles pressure on to Ireland
September 21, 2007
Jean-Baptiste Elissalde pins Ireland back with a penalty
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Ireland were left on the brink of a World Cup group exit after Jean-Baptiste Elissalde booted France to within touching distance of the quarter-finals. Vincent Clerc ran in two tries but it was the kicking of his Toulouse team-mate Elissalde that laid the foundations for victory with the scrum-half landing five penalties.
A drop goal from Ronan O'Gara was Ireland's solitary response and by the end of a disappointing contest, Eddie O'Sullivan's side had once again been reduced to a disorganised rabble. While O'Sullivan dubiously blamed huge error counts for the lamentable victories over Namibia and Georgia, tonight there was no escaping the simple truth that they are just not good enough.
Stronger, faster and more aggressive - France blew their major Pool D rivals away with a display that healed the scars of a disastrous curtain raiser against Argentina. French Rugby Federation president Bernard Lapasset had billed the match as the most important in the nation's professional rugby history but there was no hint of stage fright from Les Bleus this time.
Ireland's commitment kept them in touch until Clerc's opening try in the 59th minute but they possessed little else to trouble the hosts, who could yet top the group. They were one-dimensional in attack, often resorting to the kick-and-hope tactics that served Argentina so well two weeks ago, and their vaunted backline made little impression.
When France cranked up the pressure they had no answer and by the end of the contest looked a weary, confused team that has been together too long. A slight flicker of hope remains over their ambitions of progressing from the World Cup's 'pool of death', but the permutations required against Argentina look way beyond them.
And the failure to finish tonight with a losing bonus point was another shattering blow to a World Cup campaign that is destined to limp to a miserable conclusion at the Parc des Princes a week on Sunday. Luckily for Ireland, Les Bleus tonight lacked a fly-half who could control the game with the flaky Frederic Michalak producing another ineffectual display.
The Toulouse star was woefully off-key during the aerial battle that opened the match, although a loose kick straight into touch from O'Gara saw France come out on top. Elissalde used a quickly taken penalty to gain an extra 10 yards and he slotted over the three points.
The cagey opening continued with both sides probing for weaknesses with one towering up-and-under from O'Gara falling kindly for the Munster fly-half. Ireland could not capitalise on the field position but won a penalty only for O'Gara to drag his effort wide.
Some promising moments in attack were providing hope for the huge contingent of Irish fans but a dropped pass from Marcus Horan initiated panic stations. Cedric Heymans pounced and charged down the wing before play was swept to the right where a try-saving tackle from Shane Horgan denied Clement Poitrenaud at the latest possible moment.
Two quickfire penalties from Elissalde nudged France 9-0 ahead as Les Bleus began to impose themselves, assisted by a couple of unforced errors from the opposition. Ireland were making little headway running the ball and were happy to stick it in the air, but this was also failing to trouble the solid French defence.
The hosts were having no such problems, however, as Serge Betsen and Heymans combined down the left before Girvan Dempsey intervened in the nick of time. Michalak missed a penalty and in the 37th minute Ireland were off the mark through an O'Gara drop goal, capping a rousing spell from O'Sullivan's side.
But they were in trouble on the stroke of half-time when Horgan dropped a high ball, allowing France to pour forward under the posts and win a penalty which Elissalde converted. The opening exchanges of the second half looked ominous for Ireland with France driving through the heart of their pack.
But a marauding run from Simon Easterby breathed fresh life into their challenge with David Wallace just knocking on an Andrew Trimble pass as Ireland sought the crucial breakthrough. A series of big hits sent the green shirts backwards - number eight Leamy took the biggest pounding - and then France put the result beyond doubt.
Michalak produced an outrageous side-footed kick that bamboozled the Irish defence and Clerc gathered for a simple try. Paul O'Connell was sinbinned in the 64th minute to leave Ireland in serious trouble and excellent finishing from Clerc saw France take advantage of the extra man.
Damien Traille was yellow-carded in the dying moments but France were already out of sight, registering a victory that has nudged their World Cup back on track.
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