Ireland so nearly break Paris hoodoo
France 17 Ireland 17: In the end, it was worth waiting for. As a spectacle, Ireland's rescheduled Six Nations game in the Stade de France had everything but a win for the visitors, who left Paris with a draw for the first time in 62 years after Tommy Bowe's two first half tries were cancelled out by a ferocious third quarter fighitback from the hosts.
Wesley Fofana's try and the boot of Morgan Parra wiped out the arrears and with nothing between them both sides had chances to win it. Ireland spurned the opportunity of a drop goal, Stephen Ferris produced a timely block down when Lionel Beauxis attemped his for the hosts.
It was bittersweet for For Declan Kidney's side, who reached a position of such dominance thanks the sheer brilliance and opportunism of Bowe, who intercepted an Aurelien Rougerie pass to run under the posts and open the scoring, before capitalising on turnover ball and chipping down the line for his second.
"The second half performance was very disapointing," said captain Paul O'Connell afterwards. "There were a few mistakes and the penalty count was weighted heavily agasinst us which is very frustrating and very annoying. We put ourselves in a great position but we didn't capitalise."
The rivals were originally scheduled to meet three weeks ago only for a frozen pitch to force referee Dave Pearson to postpone the contest 10 minutes before kick off. Only a handful of Irish fans had managed to travel to Paris for a second time in three weeks, though the ground was full.
France, unbeaten, recalled fullback Clement Poitrenaud and flanker Julien Bonnaire following their narrow defeat over Scotland and the former was influential early on.
He showed nimble feet to break from his own 22 before play was held up as winger Vincent Clerc recovered from a fierce tackle by Cian Healy.
France were showing some dangerous touches in attack, but their attempts at offloading were repeatedly foiled by Ireland wrapping them up in the tackle.
Recent Irish attempts at storming the Stade de France have been undermined by a disastrous start, but today it was Les Bleus’ turn to implode in the opening quarter.
A ponderous attack from just outside the French 22 reached centre Rougerie, whose lazy floated pass intended for winger Julien Malzieu instead found the lurking Bowe. The Ospreys winger made light work of the gallop home and when Jonathan Sexton converted from beneath the posts, Ireland were 7-0 ahead.
Morgan Parra and Sexton exchanged penalties before Bowe almost escaped with another intercept try, though this time the ball slipped from his fingertips.
Ireland’s scrum was now in full retreat, allowing Parra to land a monster three points that reduced the deficit to four points. Healy was lucky to escape a yellow card as he blocked Clerc from an outrageously offside position as France sought to escape down the right.
Les Bleus’ sense of injustice intensified when Parra missed the penalty and then they slipped further behind as Bowe struck once again. Swift hands and a mix-up in defence allowed him to break free and although it seemed as though he had blown a chance by failing to release Rob Kearney, his chip ahead bounced kindly and he dummied Poitrenaud to stroll over with Sexton converting.
The second half was ushered in by rain and it took Parra six minutes to land his third penalty, but Ireland were soon back on the front foot.
Wing Andrew Trimble had the ball knocked from his hand as he switched with Jamie Heaslip and a fine opportunity vanished.
France touched down in the 50th minute, initially profiting from good fortune during a loose passage of play. The ball bounced into the arms of Fofana and the centre accelerated clear, outrunning Kearney to dive over in the left corner.
The momentum had clearly shifted, a fact underlined when Parra rifled over a long-range penalty to level the score.
Moments later scrumhalf Conor Murray was replaced by Eoin Reddan after being stretchered off because of an injury to his right knee.
Ireland then spent a sustained spell in the opposition half but failed to trouble the scoreboard, while Beauxis sent an ugly drop goal under the crossbar and then saw a second charged down by Ferris.
France, camped in an ominous position, conceded a penalty with two minutes to go but then had one last throw of the dice only for Kearney to bundle Malzieu into touch.