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Dublin: 13 °C Sunday 27 May, 2018
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Stunning Johnny Sexton drop-goal steals Paris win for Schmidt's Ireland

Joe Schmidt’s men stole the win at the very death, just their third in France since 1972.

France 13

Ireland 15

Murray Kinsella reports from Stade de France

IT LOOKED LIKE Ireland were down and out, but Johnny Sexton stepped up with the clock in the red to steal a win for Ireland in Paris.

From 45 metres out and after more than 40 Irish phases that started deep in their own half, the Ireland out-half showed huge composure and skill to slam over the stunning long-range match-winning three points.

In the middle of that attack there came another demonstration of Sexton’s class – a perfect cross-field kick to Keith Earls that provided Ireland with real momentum.

France hadn’t looked remotely like winning this game for the vast majority and yet they appeared to have clinched the victory in typically thrilling fashion, with Teddy Thomas scorching over for what might have been the winning try in the 74th minute.

Bundee Aki congratulates Jonathan Sexton after he kicked the winning drop goal Sexton stole the win for Ireland. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Instead, Ireland showed huge character to fight back into the French half and Sexton delivered the winning touch, ensuring what was just Ireland’s third win in Paris since 1972.

Ireland almost left the Stade de France rueing this as missed opportunity after looking in control for long periods, as they just could not shake off a determined French side who have now started the Jacques Brunel era in losing fashion.

A missed penalty from Sexton as the game entered the final quarter gave the French a sniff but he showed his true bottle in nailing the final act of the game.

With three home games to come in the next three rounds, Joe Schmidt’s men will now be able to drive on with title ambitions, though they will know they need to vastly improve in the weeks to come.

Ultimately, their attacking game was blunt in admittedly wet conditions – even if they did drag penalties out of the poorly-discipline French side regularly – and they never looked like scoring a try despite a number of visits into the home team’s 22.

James Ryan was absolutely immense on his Six Nations debut, Tadhg Furlong had a big performance, while Dan Leavy was superb off the bench after replacing Josh van der Flier, but even with the input of that “new breed” of forwards, Ireland lacked a clinical edge.

For now, though, a win in Paris of any kind will do.

Iain Henderson and Tadhg Furlong compete with Sébastien Vahaamahina Sebastien Vahaamahina looks to disrupt an Irish maul. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Ireland looked sharp from their very first attack after Conor Murray had tackled Yacouba Camara into touch, with Rory Best throwing to the tail for Six Nations newcomer Ryan to deliver clean ball off the top.

Robbie Henshaw hit centre partner Bundee Aki to make a half break and find the supporting Stockdale, who offloaded to Earls wide on the right. Stretched and scrambling, France’s Kevin Gourdon was caught offside and Sexton slotted a third-minute penalty.

Henderson and O’Mahony had lineout steals in the opening quarter as Ireland attacked the French lineout, while Andy Farrell’s defence looked comfortable against the French phase play.

New French out-half Jalibert – who was to be forced off injured after just 29 minutes – showed a couple of glimpses of his ability, including an offload to Virimi Vakatawa out on the left, but Ireland were well on control.

Nice hands from the composed Ryan on a link pass allowed Ireland’s backs to send Earls hurtling down the right again in the 22nd minute, with Camara going off his feet at a subsequent breakdown and allowing Sexton to make it 6-0.

Ireland needed Kearney to make a brilliant covering run to scoop up the ball soon after, when Ryan forced an offload to Murray off the deck and France hacked the loose ball forward into Ireland’s 22. The experienced Kearney showed his pace to get across and gather on the slide, with Murray’s box kick relieving the pressure.

Jonathan Sexton kicks a penalty Sexton kicked three first-half penalties. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The scrum was going well for Ireland, but they did have issues with their ball-carrying quality and fight on the ground post-tackle, as well as in the speed of their arrival at the breakdown.

Kearney was caught trying to counter in his own half just after the half-hour mark and France captain Guilhem Guirado pounced for a turnover penalty that scrum-half Maxime Machenaud converted to draw les Bleus back to within three points.

Ireland lost Josh van der Flier to a head injury after he slipped into Guirado’s tackle but they were able to finish the half strongly when more solid phase play led to Sebastien Vahaamahina conceding a crazy penalty, taking out Murray at the ruck as the Ireland scrum-half cleverly waited for the contact.

Sexton was on target for a third time and Ireland took a 9-3 lead into the break.

Ireland extended that advantage within six minutes of the restart, Dan Leavy making his impact felt as van der Flier’s replacement with some strong carrying, while Ryan’s excellent tackle allowed Iain Henderson to win a turnover penalty for Ireland in defence.

Again, Ireland ground through phases off the ensuing lineout and Remi Lamerat couldn’t resist picking the ball up in an offside position when it popped out of a ruck, Sexton striking the three points for a fourth time.

James Ryan wins a line-out James Ryan wins an Irish lineout. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

But Schmidt’s men endured a sloppy period of errors following that penalty, with their next 22 visit ending when Tadhg Furlong was stripped of the ball by Jefferson Poirot, possibly after the tackle had been completed, and a wild passage ensued.

France kicked deep, Ireland attempted to counter but eventually Vahaamahina won a turnover penalty after Leavy’s carry and Machenaud closed the leading margin again.

Leavy continued to make an impact, with one lovely offload from a lineout attack, and though that passage ended with a loose Henshaw pass going to deck, a CJ Stander turnover sent Ireland back up into the French 22.

Again, their discipline failed them – captain Guirado failing to roll – and Sexton took the shot at goal only to loose his footing on as he went to strike the ball, his poor effort sailing wide.

Suddenly, Ireland looked less comfortable with that failure to open the margin up to nine points again, French spirits revived.

Vakatawa’s bust down the left brought the volume in Stade de France to a new peak but then Vahaamahina came in from the side at ruck time to halt the new-found momentum.

Dan Leavy with Rémi Lamerat Dan Leavy was superb for Ireland off the bench. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Earls’ high tackle on the increasingly influential Vakatawa gave the French another new foothold as both benches began to be sprung, only for Brunel’s side to kick the ball away.

France, though, had their tails up and when Kearney’s kick deep into their half didn’t find touch, they sparked up on that brilliant counter-attack to send Thomas clear and allow replacement out-half Anthony Belleau to convert for a 13-12 lead.

The French had returned Rob Kearney’s kick from well inside their own half, replacement scrum-half Antoine Dupont hitting Thomas on the right touchline to burn past Kearney and leave Jacob Stockdale for dead on a delicious arcing run to the tryline.

Belleau missed a 78th-minute penalty to allow Ireland one last chance to steal the win, and they surged into the French half for Sexton to show his class.

France scorers:
Tries: Teddy Thomas
Conversions:
Anthony Belleau [1 from 1]
Penalties:
 Maxime Machenaud [2 from 2]
Ireland scorers:
Drop goal:
Johnny Sexton
Penalties: Johnny Sexton [4 from 5]

FRANCE: Geoffrey Palis; Teddy Thomas, Rémi Lamerat, Henry Chavancy, Virimi Vakatawa; Matthieu Jalibert (Anthony Belleau ’30), Maxime Machenaud (Antoine Dupont ’66 – reversal ’76)); Jefferson Poirot (Dany Priso ’55), Guilhem Guirado (captain) (Adrien Pelissié ’74), Rabah Slimani (Cedate Gomes Sa ’55); Sébastien Vahaamahina, Arthur Iturria (Paul Gabrillagues ’61); Wenceslas Lauret (Marco Tauleigne ’66), Yacouba Camara, Kévin Gourdon.

Replacements not used: Benjamin Fall.

IRELAND: Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale (Fergus McFadden ’75); Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy (Jack McGrath ’61), Rory Best (captain) (Sean Cronin ’68), Tadhg Furlong (John Ryan ’70); James Ryan (Devin Toner ’65), Iain Henderson; Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier (Dan Leavy ’37), CJ Stander.

Replacements not used: Luke McGrath, Joey Carbery.

Referee: Nigel Owens [WRU].

Attendance: 74,878.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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