France back on track with win in Ireland
March 12, 2005
Benoit Baby dives in to score and cap a fine individual performance
© Getty Images
2004 champions France played themselves back into this year's Six Nations title race, as they wrecked Ireland 's hopes of a first Grand Slam for 57 years at Lansdowne Road.
It may have been French captain Fabien Pelous' 100th cap which drew the initial plaudits, but it was the visitors' debutant centre who proved a 'Million Dollar Baby' on a crisp spring afternoon. Centre prodigy Benoit Baby ignited France 's chances of a first win in Dublin since 1999 as his 32nd-minute try gifted Bernard Laporte's men an 18-9 half-time lead.
Winger Christophe Dominici - just four minutes earlier - had nabbed his first try in 12 tests and the Stade Français veteran confirmed the victory with two minutes remaining, touching down after a superb Serge Betsen ruck steal. Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll once more proved his side's talisman. His 27th Test try - a snappy 73rd-minute run and jink past substitute Freddy Michalak - gave Eddie O'Sullivan's men heart and a two-point deficit.
However, their late charge mattered little as Dominici breached the outside cover only moments later and for the fifth season in-a-row, the best Ireland can hope for is four wins from five. Spoiling Wales' proposed Grand Slam party next Saturday may provide the ideal fillup for the battered men in green, but they only have themselves to blame for this defeat - their first home one for two years.
A sub-standard first half performance left them trailing 18-9, and with the wind into their faces and the rub of the green elsewhere, France - through dogged defence - deservedly proved the better team. The visitors - despite staring into a brisk breeze in the first-half - opened the better, and just as they had done in their 24-18 loss to Wales two weeks ago - foraged clear for a break advantage.
This time, it was through their superior forwards as time and again, from 50-cap prop Sylvain Marconnet through to barnstorming Bourgoin number eight Julien Bonnaire - they bossed this sun-splashed issue. Bonnaire was used thoroughly at the lineout and from the base of the scrum, with Pelous, Yannick Nyanga and Jerome Thion all holding their own at the set-piece.
Their overall dominance bore through on 38 minutes when Toulouse veteran Pelous claimed a lineout for the visitors without the slightest hint of a jump.
However, Sebastien Bruno did offer up Ireland their first points on 8 minutes as the Sale hooker rucked offside. Ronan O'Gara obliged from the left but as was the pattern, France immediately replied. Following two defiant 20-metre mauls, Yann Delaigue - keeping Michalak on the bench - popped over a neat 28-metre goal.
Ireland 's forwards were disturbingly off-the-boil and with blue hands bossing possession, even the much-vaunted home lineout was going askew. O'Gara kept the scoreboard ticking nonetheless. A high tackle on his skipper saw the Munster fly-half kick over from 33 metres for 6-3.
Ill-discipline from Simon Easterby allowed Yachvili level again and although O'Gara crept over the second of two attempts to become Ireland's record points scorer on 514 points - one ahead of David Humphreys - O'Sullivan's men were undone defensively by two sizzling line breaks.
9-6 down, a searing midfield incision from Brive full back Julien Laharrague on 28 minutes, allowed Cedric Heymans offload for Dominici to outdo Denis Hickie for the right corner. Incidentally the 32-year-old's last came in November 2003 - again, against Ireland . Yachvili dragged the conversion wide, but just four minutes later Baby - another product off the Toulouse conveyor belt - cut completely through the Irish rearguard to touch down from 40 metres out.
France added the extras through Yachvili to confirm their dominance at 18-9 in front. The worry had begun to spread around the confines of the old stadium in the world. Without a defeat at the venue in two years, Ireland were stung, and roared back into contention as they mixed up their game plan and kept in contention with a meatier supply of the ball on the restart.
O'Gara banged over his fourth penalty seven minutes - yet with a lineout functioning at 60-70%, the Irish were always playing catch-up. Yachvili stemmed the green tide on the hour with a well-struck penalty from the right. On 65 minutes, Ireland offered up the chance of a slot at the posts in favour of a lineout drive and ultimately it went against them at the death.
Three minutes later, Dominici rescued Laporte's men as he slapped away an O'Gara dink through, with Hickie in close attendance. O'Driscoll then danced clear - with the steadying influence of Pelous off-the-field, and the supposedly injured Michalak on it - to score under the posts and raise the Lansdowne roof. O'Gara duly converted to reduce the arrears to 21-19.
Ireland never regained a footing in French territory after that, and their last coughing up of possession with Betsen robbing Maggs for Dominici's second, summed up a poor day at the office for the men in green.