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Les Bleus edge brutal Parisian battle with Schmidt's beaten Ireland

Ireland’s hopes of a third consecutive Six Nations title faded at Stade de France.

France 10

Ireland 9

Murray Kinsella reports from Stade de France

IRELAND’S HOPES OF winning a third consecutive Six Nations title faded as France dominated the final quarter to earn a 10-9 win in Paris.

Rob Kearney with Eddy Ben Arous Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Joe Schmidt’s men showed major fatigue in the second half, six days after making 170 tackle against Wales, and les Bleus took their opportunity to seize a second win in two games so far in Guy Novès’s tenure.

Maxime Médard’s try heading into the final 10 minutes of the contest allowed Jules Plisson to edge the French in front with his conversion and they finished the game strongly, in possession, to hold the Irish out.

In truth, Schmidt’s men were spent at that point and they will ultimately reflect on their failure to score more points in the first half – particularly a dominant first quarter – as one of the main reasons for defeat.

The game overall was an awfully poor one, with a high error count and indiscipline from the French in particular. Indeed, les Bleus could have easily lost two men to the sin bin in the opening 40 minutes.

Instead, it was Ireland who lost players, albeit to injury. Sean O’Brien’s knee, Dave Kearney’s shoulder, Mike McCarthy’s head, Johnny Sexton’s neck/shoulder are among the concerns.

Ireland now have two weeks before heading to Twickenham to take on Eddie Jones’ England in round three. They will be aware that they need major improvements in attack and their use of possession if they are to win in London.

Ireland began brightly, with an extraordinary aerial take from Robbie Henshaw over Teddy Thomas inside the French 22 leading the home side into edging offside in their attempts to reorganise.

A view of the National Anthems Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Schmidt’s men opted against the posts and instead used a smart front peel move off their five-metre lineout, but the French withstood the early test on their tryline to clear.

The French could have had a man in the bin in just the 15th minute, when Yoann Meastri hit Sexton late with the elbow after the Ireland out-half had spun a pass. Referee Jaco Peyper came back for the penalty, though the incident was certainly worthy of a TMO review.

Sexton picked himself off the ground after a minute to punish Maestri on the scoreboard with his first penalty.

But Ireland failed to turn their territorial dominance in that first quarter into further points and then lost O’Brien to a worrying injury knee injury, as the openside crumbled after planting his left foot to power towards contact.

Tommy O’Donnell entered the fray, but Ireland soon lost another man as Dave Kearney departed with a shoulder injury. Again, there appeared to be real claims for a yellow card for France as captain Guilhem Guirado smashed Kearney high in the tackle. Another collision barely 20 seconds later saw Kearney forced off, with Fergus McFadden slotting in on the wing.

France loosehead Jefferson Poirot continued the theme of poor discipline by failing to roll away to allow Sexton make it 6-0 with half an hour gone, but the French responded rapidly through Jules Plisson’s three pointer off the tee.

The Stade Français playmaker was wide with a drop goal attempt on the next French attack, before McCarthy was the next Irishman to go off injured, although only to the blood bin initially, with Donnacha Ryan bounding on in his place until half time.

A third Sexton penalty, after Jack McGrath had dominated Uini Atonio in the scrum, pushed Ireland to 9-3, though they gave up a penalty within a minute again as they failed to control the restart and Guirado pounced for the turnover.

Jonathan Sexton goes off injured Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Plisson was wide to the right, however, a poor miss at an important time to leave Ireland with a six-point lead at the break.

Ireland reverted to kick-heavy tactics in the second half as the rain picked up, with Sexton and Murray looking to find space behind the French or test them with high, hanging bombs.

A rare linebreak came in the 50th minute from that trademark Schmidt play that involves a dummy loop and pass back inside to Rob Kearney arriving late. The Ireland fullback burst beyond the French defence but then produced a loose offload to spark a counter.

Guy Novès’ men threatened to go the length of the pitch with their offloading dynamism but the poor Yacouba Camara’s pass to Damien Chouly was forward.

France had changed their propping pair early in the second half, sending in Eddy Ben Arous and Rabah Slimani for the underperforming Atonio and Poirot, and that alteration had an increasing influence on the game.

First, the French scrum earned a penalty from Peyper under their own posts to lift the pressure and gradually the home team began to take control of the contest as Ireland’s energy levels visibly waned.

Plisson’s break past the flat-footed McFadden almost produced a French try with 63 minutes played, only for Andrew Trimble to brilliantly bat the ball away, basketball style, as les Bleus‘ out-half attempted to float a pass to replacement Hugo Bonneval wide on the right.

Trimble made another big hit wide on the left minutes later, stopping Virimi Vakatawa but the French came again and again in narrow waves of pick-and-jam attack.

Maxime Medard celebrates his try with Maxime Machenaud and teammates Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

They burrowed their way over the tryline on the 65-minute mark, but Rob Kearney brilliantly – and illegally – threw his body underneath Chouly to deny the France number eight.

But that French scrum merely powered up in response, earning three penalties in a row underneath the Ireland posts and they arguably could have had a penalty try on the second of those.

The expectation was that they would drive Ireland backwards again on the fourth scrum in the set, but instead sub scrum-half Maxime Machenaud darted right from the base to draw in Ian Madigan, only on the pitch after Sexton departed with what looked like a repeat of last week’s neck injury.

Madigan was lured to Machenaud and then the advancing Henshaw slipped as the France scrum-half found Maxime Médard on his shoulder. The fullback darted inside Henshaw and back outside as O’Donnell despairingly attempted to scrag him.

A brilliantly clinical try from the French to exploit Henshaw’s misread and slip, with Plisson adding the straightforward conversion for a 10-9 lead with 10 minutes left to play.

The French showed muscle and energy to end the game in possession as Ireland showed how physically spent they were.

France scorers:

Tries: Maxime Médard

Conversions: Jules Plisson [1 from 1]

Penalties: Jules Plisson [1 from 2]

Ireland scorers:

Penalties: Johnny Sexton [3 from 3]

FRANCE: Maxime Medard; Teddy Thomas (Hugo Bonneval ’45), Maxime Mermoz, Jonathan Danty (Jean-Marc Doussain ’77), Virimi Vakatawa; Jules Plisson, Sébastian Bézy (Maxime Machenaud ’57); Jefferson Poirot (Eddy Ben Arous ’45 (Poirot ’74)), Guilhem Guirado (capt.) (Camille Chat ’48 to ’58, permanent ’73), Uini Atonio (Rabah Slimani ’45); Alexandre Flanquart, Yoann Maestri (Paul Jedrasiak ’58); Lauret Wenceslas, Yacouba Camara (Loann Goujon ’68), Damien Chouly.

IRELAND: Rob Kearney; Andrew Trimble, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Dave Kearney (Fergus McFadden ’30); Jonathan Sexton (Ian Madigan ’70), Conor Murray; Jack McGrath (James Cronin ’73), Rory Best (capt.) (Richardt Strauss ’71), Nathan White (Tadhg Furlong ’63); Mike McCarthy (Donnacha Ryan ’35 to HT, permanent ’63), Devin Toner; CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien (Tommy O’Donnell ’19), Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements not used: Eoin Reddan.

Referee: Jaco Peyper.

‘At some stage we have to start doing, rather than just trying to learn all the time’

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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