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Dublin: 10 °C Thursday 21 March, 2019
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Bonus-point win over les Bleus boosts Schmidt's Ireland before Wales trip

The Ireland boss will be frustrated at how his side closed out the game but they dominated most of the contest.

Ireland 26

France 14

Murray Kinsella reports from the Aviva Stadium 

JOHNNY SEXTON DISHING out high fives, Garry Ringrose’s dancing feet taking him around defenders, CJ Stander’s relentless carrying driving him through Frenchmen, Keith Earls scorching home off a Joe Schmidt special strike play. 

Happier times are back and, after a bonus-point win here, Schmidt’s team now face into a visit to Wales next weekend, when they can spoil Warren Gatland’s side’s Grand Slam party, with momentum harnessed again.

The championship is not yet completely dead for Ireland, although they would need Scotland to record a shock win over England next weekend – as well as beating Wales themselves – to claim the trophy.

Jonathan Sexton celebrates scoring their second try with his teammates Ireland scored four tries against the French. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Even the late withdrawal of fullback Rob Kearney – ruled out after his calf tightened up yesterday – couldn’t put Ireland off the task here, as Jordan Larmour started and delivered one of his most impressive performances in green yet.

Larmour’s introduction meant Schmidt’s team showed eight changes in total from the stuttering win over Italy and the likes of returning captain Rory Best, CJ Stander, Iain Henderson, man of the match James Ryan and Cian Healy added major ballast up front.

Sexton and his halfback partner Conor Murray had their best games of the championship so far, while the class of Ringrose back in the 13 shirt was as influential and riveting to watch as ever.

The travelling French support was vocal at times but their team gave them little to cheer about until a pair of late consolation scores.  

A staggering 90% share of the territory in the first half helped Schmidt’s men towards three tries from Best, out-half Sexton and replacement back row Jack Conan – on for the injured Josh van der Flier – and there was more fun after the break.

Earls scored his 30th international try off a delightfully clever strike from a lineout, allowing Schmidt to call the likes of Sexton and Murray ashore with the final quarter still left to play, subs Jack Carty and John Cooney getting valuable exposure at Test level.

Jacques Brunel’s visitors were rudderless and impotent for long spells, but the late tries scored by Yoann Huget and Camille Chat will leave Schmidt with some frustrations at how his side saw out their win.

Rory Best scores their first try Captain Rory Best got Ireland off to the perfect start. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Before that late flurry, Ireland’s control of the encounter was suffocating and they now face into their six-day turnaround before the visit to Cardiff with their much-discussed confidence boosted. 

Larmour had a wonderful start, finding grass deep behind the French after a clever early Ringrose kick manipulated their backfield, les Bleus right wing Damien Penaud forced to put the ball into touch after Larmour’s accurate right-footed touch.

France infringed on the first close-range maul effort but Ireland went back into the left corner and captain Best snuck down the touchline off the second attempt, James Ryan helping him over for a settling early score, smartly converted by Sexton.

And so ensued the incredibly territorial dominance for Ireland as their attacking game showed up impressively, benefiting from superb carrying by the likes of Stander and Healy, as well as the tip-on passes from Peter O’Mahony and others.

Healy nearly had a 17th-minute try, showing his smarts to reach out as the ball rolled from the back of a French ruck onto their own tryline, but the Ireland loosehead knocked-on rather than dotted it down and the visitors breathed a sigh of relief.

Van der Flier departed injured in the third quarter but Ireland continued to apply pressure and ignore chances to kick at goal, opting instead to go into that left corner.

Jonathan Sexton celebrates scoring their second try with Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose and Conor Murray Sexton crossed for his first Ireland try since 2015. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

With another penalty advantage playing in the 30th minute, they crossed for a second as Sexton ran a loop around Ringrose – Larmour picking a great line outside Ringrose to sit down the French defence - and the returning outside centre showed his deft handling skills to send Sexton over untouched for a converted try.

Ringrose nearly had one himself four minutes later as he beat French fullback Thomas Ramos in the air under a Sexton garryowen, but was unfortunate to lose the ball forward in a last-ditch tackle as he looked to ground it under the posts.

Ireland had their third score before the break, however, as the imposing Henderson stripped the ball out of French possession down in the visitors’ besieged 22.

Bundee Aki carried powerfully before replacement Conan hammered through French captain Guilhem Guirado’s tackle wide on the right to finish.

An utterly dominant first-half for Ireland ended with Sexton and Aki pulling off a choke tackle turnover as les Bleus tried in vain to get a foothold in the Irish half.

Jack Conan scores scores a try despite Guilhem Guirado and Antoine Dupont Jack Conan scored Ireland's third. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Leading 19-0 as the second-half kicked-off, Ireland were treated to a rendition of The Fields of Athenry as the rain fell again, Ringrose’s sharp tackle on Dupont forcing a knock-on as the French had an early chance to attack.

France’s next attack saw O’Mahony earn a questionable-looking turnover attack, the slippery ball making it difficult for Brunel’s side.

When Ireland got their first chance of the half to create, Earls put a beautiful kick deep behind the French and Ringrose followed up to hammer Dupont in the tackle, providing Ireland a five-metre scrum.

Ireland initially missed out on the bonus-point score as they put the ball down twice in quick succession, a Sexton loop play failing and then O’Mahony spilling.

But they produced a brilliant Schmidt special after France had exited, Earls joining the a right-hand-side lineout 35 metres out, from where Ireland set up a dummy maul and sent Stander splintering off infield to deliver an inside pass to the hidden Earls.

The Munster wing scorched through the beautifully-created gap to finish and Sexton converted for 26-0 before Schmidt sent on Carty in his place and began to empty the bench.

Keith Earls runs in a try Earls scorches clear for Ireland's fourth try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Carty showed his class with two delightful tactical kicks soon after coming on, the second of which led to a crooked lineout throw from Guirado, meaning another five-metre scrum for Schmidt’s men.

This passage of pressure saw the French scrum wholly incapable of staying up and replacement tighthead Dorian Aldegheri was sin-binned by referee Ben O’Keeffe, although Ireland butchered the scrum immediately after.

Frustratingly, it was the French who finished with the final scoring acts, Huget breaking away under the posts, before replacement hooker Camille Chat dotted down at the back of a maul.

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Rory Best, Johnny Sexton, Jack Conan, Keith Earls

Conversions: Johnny Sexton [3 from 4]

France scorers:

Try: Yoann Huget, Camille Chat

Conversion: Baptiste Serin [2 from 2]

IRELAND: Jordan Larmour; Keith Earls (Andrew Conway ’76), Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale; Johnny Sexton (Jack Carty ’58), Conor Murray (John Cooney ’58); Cian Healy (Dave Kilcoyne ’51), Rory Best (captain) (Niall Scannell ’58), Tadhg Furlong (John Ryan ’58); Iain Henderson (Ultan Dillane ’58), James Ryan; Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier (Jack Conan ’24), CJ Stander.

FRANCE: Thomas Ramos (Maxime Medard ’63); Damien Penaud, Mathieu Bastareaud, Gael Fickou, Yoann Huget; Romain Ntamack (Anthony Belleau ’76), Antoine Dupont (Baptiste Serin ’72); Jefferson Poirot (Etienne Falgoux ’17), Guilhem Guirado (captain) (Camille Chat ’72), Demba Bamba (Dorian Aldegheri ’13 to ’20, permanent ’63 (yellow card ’68)); Felix Lambey (Paul Willemse ’63), Sebastien Vahaamahina; Wenceslas Lauret (Gregory Alldritt ’11), Arthur Iturria, Louis Picamoles (Demba Bamba ’68 to ’78).

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe [New Zealand].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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