Bitter evening for Ireland
France produced a brilliant all-round performance to blow away reigning Six Nations champions Ireland in Paris on Saturday night. The French raced into the lead after the first-half sinbinning of Ireland's Cian Healy and scored three tries in a 33-10 victory.
It was a bitter evening for Irish sports fans, particurly as this match came just three months after Thierry Henry's handy intervention helped France's football team qualify for the World Cup at their expense.
Last season's Grand Slam winners hadn't won in the French capital in a decade but they found their rhythm first on a bitterly cold night at the Stade de France.
Indeed, Ireland looked certain to go ahead on 17 minutes when Leinster centre Gordon D'Arcy cut a swathe through the French backline. After kicking ahead for himself, D'Arcy seemed set to win a race to the line but the bounce of the ball favoured the home team.
Just seconds later France hit the front. A brilliant break led by number eight Imanol Harinordoquy was halted illegally by Healy, who was shown a yellow card and ordered off the field for ten minutes.
Morgan Parra slotted over the resulting penalty and shortly afterwards France made the extra man count when William Servat bundled over for a try.
Following a Ronan O'Gara penalty the home side went further ahead when centre Yannick Jauzion breached the Irish defence again on 31 minutes.
When they had all 15 men on the pitch Ireland looked good but despite a sustained period of pressure in the French 22, they were unable to reduce the deficit before half-time.
The French defence was extremely disciplined throughout and the game was ended as a contest when full-back Clément Poitrenaud dived over for a try on 59 minutes.
The impressive scrum-half Parra then added another penatly and a drop goal to finish the game with 15 points.
David Wallace scored a consolation try for the visitors but after this performance France will now be firm favourites to win this year's championship.
One of their best players on the night was 21-year-old centre Mathieu Bastaraud, who has returned to the side after an embarrassing incident on last summer's tour of New Zealand.
After the game, he cautioned that France still had a lot to do to win this year's Six Nations title.
“We're not even halfway there because there are three games left. We've climbed one step but there's still a lot more to do," he said.
“It's true that it's always nice to beat the champions. We already did it last year against Wales but now we have to be careful because we have a tendency to get carried away easily.”
French defensive coach David Ellis was pleased by the way the team had stifled Ireland's creativity.
“Obviously players like [Brian] O'Driscoll, when he gets the ball in his hand he can pull something out of that, which he did on a couple of occasions," he commented.
“But I think slowly but surely they were demoralised to a certain extent on what they tried to do on attack and, the way that we played on our attack, we caught them out on numerous occasions as well.”
Meanwhile, a deflated-looking D'Arcy admitted that France had fully deserved their victory.
“It's never nice to be on this side of a scoreline like that. Unfortunately the scoreline probably reflects the way the match went. France were pretty consisentent in their play and we were up, down, up, down, with too many errors.”
The game might have been different had D'Arcy scored what would have been one of the tries of the season early on, but in the end he was left to reflect on what might have been.
“It was sitting up perfectly and then the last bounce just kicked wickedly to the left and hit the post. If the post wasn't there I would have still got it down.”
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