France survive Irish fightback
August 13, 2011
France wing Alexis Palisson created the opening try of the game in Bordeaux
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France began their preparations for next month's World Cup by turning in a typically schizophrenic display in defeating Ireland 19-12 on a warm summer's evening at the Stade Chaban Delmas on Saturday night.
Les Bleus were utterly dominant for all but two of the opening 40 minutes in Bordeaux and, after taking a deserved early lead with a penalty from scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili, they crafted a superb try towards the tail end of a one-sided opening quarter, Vincent Clerc touching down after being the recipient of a sublime off-load off the floor from fellow wing Alexis Palisson. Yachvili converted from wide on the left-hand side and then slotted a penalty on 27 minutes to put 13 points between the sides.
However, Ireland managed to gain a foothold in the game in the closing stages of the first half and belatedly got themselves off the mark two minutes before the break when Ronan O'Gara landed a long-range penalty attempt. Declan Kidney's men, beaten by Scotland in their opening World Cup warm-up game last weekend, took great heart from that score and emerged for the second half a side reborn, drawing themselves to within a point of their hosts with three more successful swings of O'Gara's right boot.
The veteran fly-half then had a chance to put Ireland ahead but his penalty attempt from wide on the right-hand side drifted left. France made the most of the let-off, regrouping well before sealing victory with two penalties from Yachvili in the final 15 minutes.
Memories of four years ago, when the Irish were based in Bordeaux for a World Cup pool from which they failed to emerged, came flooding back as the French dominated the first half. Indeed, it was hard to believe Les Bleus were making their first appearance of the summer as they made a ferocious start. Faster, stronger and more inventive, they left a strong Ireland team containing seven first choice players for dead in the opening exchanges, using a mixture of power and guile to ease into the opposition 22.
Yachvili rifled over a penalty and shortly after Les Bleus showed their mettle when Sean O'Brien and Rory Best were smashed backwards. The hit on Best resulted in a turnover and France reacted in a flash, counter-attacking through Maxime Mermoz's chip ahead only for Rob Kearney to catch Clerc just five metres out.
It was fingers in the dam stuff for Ireland as Andrew Trimble executed a try-saving tackle on Francois Trinh-Duc and it was only a matter of time before their line cracked and the try came in the 18th minute.
Scrambling frantically in defence, they failed to prevent winger Palisson brilliantly slipping the ball out of the tackle to Clerc, who raced over for his ninth try in nine games against Ireland.
O'Brien, Ireland's most destructive ball carrier during the Six Nations, bulldozed his way into space to lift Irish spirits but the respite was only brief. France played as though they were on the training ground as they effortlessly clicked through the gears, finding space at will. Flanker Imanol Harinordoquy was highly conspicuous as he twice charged into gaps before offloading with a deft slight of hand
Yachvili landed his second penalty to nudge them 13-0 ahead as Ireland continued to fall foul of referee Steve Walsh. When they did eventually win a penalty, O'Gara produced a poor touchfinder and to sum up their first half Keith Earls ended their best attacking move by sending a pass straight into touch.
Ireland looked rattled and their attempts to build momentum lacked conviction in the face of such aggressive defensive from France and it was with some relief that O'Gara slotted a penalty to end a torrid half.
France started the second half with a bulldozing run from debutant No.8 Raphael Lakafia before Ireland exploded into life for the first time in the match. Trimble, impressive once again following a fine display against Scotland last weekend, expertly found a gap and offloaded to Kearney. The Lions full-back raced 30 metres before running out of space and becoming isolated, but the move finished with an O'Gara penalty to give Ireland some reward.
Paul O'Connell was brought on to a loud cheer from the travelling support and he was soon joined by most of the Irish bench, including Jamie Heaslip. All the substitutions - Lievremont also used his replacements - had taken the urgency out of the game, but it was France who were suffering as they became increasingly ragged.
Two more O'Gara penalties followed and once more it was one way traffic but this time Ireland were in the driving seat. However, Yachvili gave France some breathing space with a pair of penalties and there were clear signs they had woken from their slumbers after an unconvincing 30 minutes.
The match had regained its competitive edge too as both sides ran hard at each other. Keith Earls almost slipped in at the right corner and it was France who were under pressure in the final stages. However, they held on to claim a victory which sets up next weekend's return meeting in Dublin very nicely indeed.
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