France hold off Ireland in Dublin
February 13, 2011
Morgan Parra kicked 15 points for France
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Defending champions France made it two wins from two in this year's Six Nations with a 25-22 victory over Ireland at Lansdowne Road in Dublin on Sunday.
First-half tries from winger Fergus McFadden and scrum-half Tomas O'Leary put the resurgent hosts on course for victory but the game swung in France's favour on the back of scrum-half Morgan Parra's boot and a try from winger Maxime Medard. The hosts rallied and a score from No.8 Jamie Heaslip brought them within striking range but a dramatic late rally came up short and in the end were left to rue some costly indiscipline and a lack of composure.
Ireland made one change to the side that scraped past Italy in Rome last weekend with Heaslip welcomed back after recovering from an ankle injury. France, fresh from their crushing victory against Scotland in Paris, moved Damien Traille from fullback to centre with Clement Poitrenaud taking the No.15 jersey.
Ireland began in confident mood and they peppered the France 22 with Jonny Sexton and flanker Sean O'Brien taking centre stage before a forward pass from centre Gordon D'Arcy to fullback Luke Fitzgerald brought an end to a multi-phase move. France opted for adventure from the resulting scrum but coughed up possession in their own 22 and Ireland made them pay with McFadden forcing his way over for his first Test try, converted by Sexton.
France's poor patch continued with a woeful restart from centre Damien Traille but they soon discovered their composure and some significant forward pressure drew a penalty against Ireland's David Wallace, which Parra landed to reduce the arrears. But Sexton soon cancelled out his effort after his pack had won a minor battle at scrum time.
Ireland's commitment in defence continued to frustrate France but the hosts gifted the visitors another foothold when McFadden was isolated and conceded a penalty that Parra landed to double his tally. And the home side's indiscipline was again at fault moments later with Parra punishing them from the kicking tee to make it a one-point game.
Ireland lock Donncha O'Callaghan was the next to feel the force of the referee's whistle after getting caught on the wrong side and the end result was the same - another three points for Parra. France began to dominate as they grew in confidence, with a chip and chase from Poitrenaud causing concern before their forwards rumbled towards the 22, but on both occasions their execution let them down.
Ireland ended the half on the front-foot with a half break from scrum-half Tomas O'Leary off a lineout taking his side deep inside the French 22. Prop Cian Healy was then thwarted as he tried to burrow over before Sexton was wrapped up with a huge overlap outside him. O'Leary remedied the situation by sweeping up and forcing his way over for his side' second. Sexton failed to extend their lead as he sliced the conversion wide of the posts but they still had a precious advantage as the sides headed to the tunnel.
A loose kick from Fitzgerald handed France an excellent attacking platform at the start of the second-half and they capitalised with a strong run from Traille forcing Ireland onto the back foot. But a drop goal from fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc was charged down by Ireland's No.8 Jamie Heaslip and the danger was finally cleared. France were not deterred and continued to patiently build and a penalty against Paul O'Connell allowed Parra to level things up with his fifth penalty.
A knock on from France lock Julien Pierre in the shadow of his own posts immediately put his side under pressure. Not for the first time the loop around in midfield was Ireland's tactic of choice off the next scrum but they ran out of space out wide.
France's approach was much more direct and rewarding. The pack laid the foundation with a solid scrum before an injection of pace from centre Aurelien Rougerie carried him through the tackle of D'Arcy. He then fed Medard who coasted in for the try. Dimitri Yachvili added the extras, having replaced Parra at scrum-half.
The French pack looked to turn the screw at scrum time with replacement Irish prop Tom Court left to shoulder the blame but Yachvili could only push his kick wide. France were soon knocking on the door again with their forward muscle drawing another penalty and referee Dave Pearson's words were still ringing in captain Brian O'Driscoll's ear as Yachvili slotted the kick.
Ireland rallied, with Sean O'Brien involved as their forwards earned some hard yards in the French 22 only to be met by a blue wall at every turn. Ireland regrouped but O'Leary and D'Arcy were enveloped as they attempted to breach the excellent defensive line. O'Gara then put boot to ball and although he failed to make contact the bounce went Ireland's way and flanker David Wallace fed Heaslip for a try in the corner. O'Gara then nailed the difficult conversion to bring his side to within three points.
There was no panic from France but a crunching tackle from O'Driscoll stopped them in their tracks. A mistake from No.8 Imanol Harinordoquy then gifted a penalty to Ireland but having kicked for position they were guilty of imprecision once again.
France worked the clock well and made easy gains before replacement Vincent Clerc danced into the Irish 22, but a turnover handed the hosts a chance for a dramatic late score. Quick ball was worked wide to Keith Earls, whose chip and chase put Medard under pressure in his own 22. The French winger was unable to lay claim to the ball and Ireland pounced only to lack composure when it mattered most. Heaslip and Fitzgerald recycled the ball only for it to be lost in contact by replacement prop Sean Cronin, with numbers gathering out wide.
France closed the game out at the scrum to claim the win and keep their title defence very much alive, with a Twickenham showdown against Grand Slam-chasing England looming in two week's time.
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