France battle back for draw against Ireland
March 4, 2012
Two tries from winger Tommy Bowe were not enough to propel Ireland to victory in Paris
© Getty Images
France produced a second half comeback to claim a share of the spoils in a 17-17 draw against Ireland in their Six Nations clash at the Stade de France in Paris on Sunday.
Ireland were on course for their first win in the French capital for 12 years, with two tries from winger Tommy Bowe powering his side to a 17-6 half-time lead. France recovered from a lackadaisical opening and centre Wesley Fofana dragged his side back into the contest with his third try in as many Test starts. Scrum-half Morgan Parra levelled the game from the tee and the hosts looked poised to close out the game only for Ireland to raise their game and deservedly claim a share of the spoils and end their rivals' hopes of a Grand Slam.
Both sides displayed plenty of confidence with ball in hand in a lung-busting opening, with that commitment matched in defence. However, it was Ireland who earned the first scoring opportunity with their excellent line speed isolating France's Dimitri Szarzewski, who subsequently conceded a penalty only for Sexton to pull it wide.
France attempted to go toe-to-toe with the Irish but were sluggish in comparison to their rivals, whose defensive pressure soon brought further reward. A telegraphed pass from centre Aurelien Rougerie to fullback Clement Poitrenaud was picked off easily by Bowe, who delighted in racing away to touch down under the posts. Sexton rediscovered his form with the simple conversion to cement his side's deserved lead.
Having seen their side outplayed thanks to a superior work rate and intensity, the home crowd showed their displeasure midway through the half with a slow hand clap and their protest had the desired effect. Fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc and No.8 Imanol Harinordoquy combined superbly to drive deep in the Irish 22 where the threat was swiftly snuffed out illegally. Parra stepped up to slot the penalty that reduced the arrears and served as a warning to the visitors that they would not get everything their way. Back came the Irish with another power-packed drive drawing the next penalty from the French defence with Sexton obliging from the kicking tee.
It could have been worse for the hosts had Bowe managed to get more than his finger tips to another loose pass in the French midfield just short of the half hour mark, instead it was Parra who kept the scoreboard ticking over after a show of strength at scrum time. France threatened to cut loose a few moments later with Ireland prop Cian Healy lucky to escape a yellow card after some blatant lazy running scuppered an ominous move and there was further frustration for the home side as Parra's penalty was wayward.
Ireland were not so wasteful, with Bowe conjuring a bit of magic to put his side firmly in control. A priceless turnover on half way laid the platform for the score before the ball was worked wide to Bowe, who shrugged off the tackle of Fofana before chipping over Poitrenaud. The bounce went the speedster's way and he delighted in collecting the ball before racing in for his second score of the game, which was converted by Sexton to give Ireland an 11-point lead at the break.
France's Wesley Fofana crossed for this third try in as many Test appearance © Getty Images
France re-entered the arena clearly determined to right a few wrongs but their misfiring backline came up short once again in the early stages of the second half with another wild pass from Rougerie, this time inside the visitors' 22, letting Ireland off the hook. The French forwards had more luck with a lineout drive handing Parra the chance to atone for his previous miss which he duly did.
The comeback was really on when a rare lapse in concentration from the Irish was punished. A powerful run from captain Thierry Dusautoir had the Irish defence creaking before a loose ball on half way was pounced upon by Trinh-Duc. The French playmaker quickly popped the ball up to Fofana whose power and pace took him through the punctured defensive line and enabled him to weather the cover tackle of Rob Kearney before touching down in the corner. Parra failed to add the extras from out wide but was on target with a penalty as the game approached the hour mark to bring the sides level once more.
The momentum was now clearly with France and a nasty-looking knee injury to influential Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray - which ended his game and most-likely his Championship - ended with Eoin reddan stepping into the void. There was still plenty of life in the Irish with Kearney and Earls making big gains inside the French half during a promising passage of play before Ferris ran out of room on the touch line. They were soon knocking on the door again but slow ball and an unforced error from centre Gordon D'Arcy ensured another raid returned no points with a late hit on Sexton going unseen by the officials.
Ireland introduced veteran Ronan O'Gara with ten minutes remaining in the hope of breaking the deadlock and it was D'Arcy who made way. France also opted for changes with Lionel Beauxis replacing Poitrenaud, with his first notable contribution an awfully rushed drop goal attempt. Ireland's propensity to concede penalties would soon hand him another chance but his next effort was charged down superbly by flanker Ferris.
France continued to turn the screw as the clock ticked down but some courageous Irish defence came at just the right time. An uncharacteristic knock on by No.8 Jamie Heaslip handed France one last attacking opportunity and a shortside break offered hope of a last-gasp score only for the Irish defence to force winger Julien Malzieu into touch.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.