France get over the line in Dublin

Sun, Feb 13, 2011, 00:00

Six Nations – Ireland 22 France 25:Rarely has a performance been so neatly defined by a single incident. Trailing by three points with 78 minutes on the clock, Ireland broke free of the shackles and looked poised to claim the match-winning score. But with the whitewash beckoning, Sean Cronin spilled the ball forward and with it went any hopes of stealing a result.

It was an oddly fitting finale to another error-strewn display from the men in green shirts. Declan Kidney’s side are clearly capable of playing with real verve; of mixing it physically and troubling any defence in world rugby. But basic mistakes and indiscipline derailed their Six Nations ambitions this afternoon.

It was by no means a vintage French performance, but the problem for Ireland was that it didn’t have to be. The defending champions can now build towards another Grand Slam whereas Ireland’s campaign is as good as over before it really got started.

A curious first 40 minutes were bookended by scores from Fergus McFadden and Tomas O’Leary. After last weekend’s below par display in Rome, Ireland approached the game with real purpose and laid down a marker of their attacking intent right from the off.

After securing the kick-off, wave after wave of green shirts moved the ball deep into the French 22 and when Luke Fitzgerald went over in the corner the arena erupted. But Gordon D’Arcy’s try-scoring pass was deemed to have been forward – a marginal decision vindicated by the replays – and the chance of points, on this occasion, lost.

But Ireland needed less than two minutes to make amends as Clement Poitreneaud gifted possession straight back to the home side. Opting to run from under the shadow of the French posts, the fullback spilled his pass. McFadden gratefully scooped up the loose ball and after some good work close in, the Leinster winger bundled over for his first international try.

Instead of building on the advantage, Ireland allowed the same indiscipline and carelessness that almost proved their undoing against Italy to creep back into their game.

Time and again, good field position was wasted by a spilled pass, a poorly executed kick or just a plain bad decision. Compounding this was a worrying tendency to cough up penalties within range of the immaculate Morgan Parra. The Clermont scrumhalf gleefully accepted the opportunities afforded to him and kept the blue side of the scoreboard ticking over regularly.

From a position of strength, Ireland had ceded the initiative and it wasn’t until the stroke of half-time that they would wrest it back. Once again, the Irish build-up play was hugely encouraging and after pounding away at the French line, O’Leary burrowed his way over from close range.

Despite turning with a 15-12 lead, there was always a sense that Ireland would need to score first after the interval to have any prospect of holding on for the win.

But, after Francois Trinh-Duc had a drop-goal attempt charged down, it was France who broke the Irish resistance in the 55th minute.

Aurelien Rougerie was the catalyst for the score, the giant centre brushing Gordon D’Arcy’s attempted tackle aside before fixing Fitzgerald and sending Maxime Medard over unopposed. Dimitri Yachvili, who had taken over the kicking duties from Parra, duly knocked over the conversion as France regained the lead. Further indiscipline then allowed Yachvili extend that lead to 10 points entering the final quarter.

But this is not an Ireland side that is prepared to accept defeat lightly and Jamie Heaslip set up a grandstand finish after Ireland laid siege to the French line yet again. The attack looked to be going nowhere after 26 phases of play but when Ronan O’Gara’s miscued kicked somehow found it’s way to David Wallace he sent Heaslip over in the corner.

O’Gara slotted over the touchline conversion as Ireland closed to within three points.

A nerve-jangling end game ensued, with France weathering the storm until Keith Earls hacked up-field. Heaslip was first on the scene to win back possession and after Fitzgerald found his path blocked, Cronin had the chance to win it. However, the replacement hooker lost the ball in contact, allowing France to run down the clock and leave Dublin with the points.

Ireland:Fitzgerald; McFadden, O’Driscoll, D’Arcy, Earls; Sexton, O’Leary; Healy, Best, Ross; O’Callaghan, O’Connell; O’Brien, D Wallace, Heaslip. Replacements:O’Gara for Sexton (63 mins), Reddan for O’Leary (70 mins), Court for Healy (56 mins), Cronin for Best (76 mins), Cullen for O’Connell (80 mins). Not Used:Leamy, P Wallace.

France:Poitrenaud; Huget, Rougerie, Traille, Medard; Trinh-Duc, Parra; Domingo, Servat, Mas; Pierre, Nallet; Dusautoir, Bonnaire, Harinordoquy. Replacements:Clerc for Poitrenaud (51 mins), Jauzion for Traille (73 mins), Yachvili for Parra (54 mins), Marconnet for Domingo (50 mins), Thion for Pierre (64 mins), Chabal for Bonnaire (54 mins). Not Used:Guirado.