Second best

Ireland come up short in Paris as England crowned Six Nations champions

Andy Farrell’s men made errors but France were superb in a bonus-point win.

France 35

Ireland 27

IT ALL ENDED in disappointment on a wet night in Paris.

England’s frustrations in Rome had left Ireland with some hope and when they scored a first-half try through centurion Cian Healy, they knew that winning on a six-point margin would hand them the Six Nations title. Easier said than done against this French team.

Les Bleus powered home in the second half, a stunning solo try from Robbie Henshaw offering the only reprieve as Fabien Galthié’s men notched a bonus point but couldn’t make up the points difference on England, who are crowned Six Nations champions.

johnny-sexton-leaves-the-field-dejected Ireland captain Johnny Sexton departs the pitch in Paris. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

France were outstanding in the scintillating attacking bursts they specialise in as Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack showed their quality, while their defence was excellent at times, but Ireland will have plenty of regrets about what they delivered.

The image of captain Johnny Sexton leaving the pitch shaking his head in clear disagreement with the coaching staff replacing him heading into the final 10 minutes will linger, with the Ireland captain making no effort to hide his anger at the decision to send on Ross Byrne.

Ireland finish Andy Farrell’s first Six Nations campaign third in the table after wins against Scotland, Wales, and Italy, as well as the defeats away to England and France. 

It seems clear that Ireland are not in that top-level bracket of teams along with the English and French, so it will be intriguing to see how Farrell treats the upcoming Autumn Nations Cup in November.

In Paris, they missed first-choice tight five forwards Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson, as well as Dave Kilcoyne and Jordan Larmour, but they will still feel a more accurate performance with fewer errors might have delivered them an unlikely title.

Instead, Eddie Jones’ England are champions while this revitalised French team will only get better in the years ahead.  

antoine-dupont-celebrates-scoring-a-try-with-gael-fickou Dupont scored the opening try for France. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Ireland enjoyed a strong start in Paris as their kicking game made an impact and Caelan Doris had a breakdown steal before a scrum penalty led to scrum-half Conor Murray taking a huge 55-metre shot at goal. It had the legs but drifted wide to the left.

But that opening effort counted for little as France scored in the blink of an eye in the seventh minute, right wing Vincent Rattez keeping a Dupont kick in play down the right, from where les Bleus shifted the ball to the other edge for Gaël Fickou to burn past Andrew Porter and Murray and pass back inside for the support-running Dupont to score.

Ntamack’s conversion had France 7-0 in front but Ireland responded well and could have had a penalty try just two minutes later, when Sexton grubber-kicked down the left for Hugo Keenan chase.

The Ireland left wing juggled the ball once after it bounced up, only for France fullback Anthony Bouthier to deliberately slap it into touch-in-goal. He was yellow card but referee Wayne Barnes felt Fickou was covering across and Keenan wouldn’t scored even if Bouthier hadn’t intervened.

Ireland’s five-metre maul was then viciously repelled but they kept the pressure on and eventually it told when Healy powered over from close-range as Ryan and Porter latched on.

Healy had to go for a HIA soon after but the poor French discipline continued and Sexton slotted a penalty for a 10-7 Irish lead after 25 minutes. Farrell’s men appeared to be in a fine position but a big error let the home side back in front.

cian-healy-on-his-100th-appearance-for-ireland Cian Healy scored a try on his 100th cap. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Fullback Jacob Stockdale failed to deal with a skidding Ntamack grubber down the right in Ireland’s 22, spilling the greasy ball forward and allowing France flanker François Cros to nudge the loose ball ahead. With Cros certain to win the race to the ball in Ireland’s in-goal area, the despairing Doris tackled him off the ball. Penalty try and yellow card. 

Ireland responded well again, with the superb James Ryan continuing to impress, and Sexton slotted three points after the latest French infringement. But Ntamack extended the lead to 17-13 after Murray failed to release post-tackle before going for a turnover.

Farrell’s men did have one last chance before the half-time break but surprisingly opted against taking a kickable shot at goal with another penalty, instead going down the right-hand touchline.

Again, their maul was stopped and Ireland went into their narrow pick-and-jam game, only for French sub back row Dylan Cretin to jackal after a Will Connors carry, drawing Rob Herring, Tadhg Beirne, and Sexton off their feet at the breakdown for a penalty.

It felt like a big moment as France held their 17-13 advantage for half-time and they certainly had one of those just after as they scored a stunning try on transition, with Fickou instrumental down the left again as he chipped ahead.

Once again, Dupont was running a brilliant support line and regathered on the bounce and then threw a sublime offload back inside to Ntamack to finish wide on the left.

gael-fickou-breaks-away-from-conor-murray Gael Fickou did real damage for France in attack. Dave Winter / INPHO Dave Winter / INPHO / INPHO

Ntamack missed the conversion but soon increased the lead with a penalty after CJ Stander came in the side of the breakdown, the French now leading 25-13 and very much in charge of the momentum.

Ntamack slotted another three in the 52nd minute for 28-13 as the French looked to narrow the points difference advantage that England still had over them.

It looked like Ireland were on for a hammering but they steeled themselves and then swung back into the contest with a sensational solo score from Henshaw, the centre cutting back against the grain from right to left from 40 metres out and beating five defenders on his charge into the left corner.

Sexton slotted the touchline conversion and Ireland were back to 28-20 with 18 minutes left to go. 

Two huge breakdown turnover penalties from the outstanding Stander handed Ireland another chance down in France’s 22 but their lineout coughed up a crucial turnover just metres out from the tryline. The French kicked clear and, again, Ireland’s lineout was picked off.

And that was to be that, Sexton departing shaking his head with just over 10 minutes left.

caelan-doris-dejected-after-the-game Ireland were second best in Paris. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The French put the finishing touch to their victory as Ntamack showed his class by chipping delightfully over the Irish defence, regathering the ball on the bounce himself, and then sending Vakatawa over under the posts.

The out-half converted and though Stockdale added a late consolation try with the clock in the red, Ireland were a clear second-best. 

France scorers:

Tries: Antoine Dupont, Penalty try, Romain Ntamack, Virimi Vakatawa

Conversions: Romain Ntamack [2 from 3]

Penalties: Romain Ntamack [3 from 3]

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Cian Healy, Robbie Henshaw, Jacob Stockdale

Conversions: Johnny Sexton [2 from 2], Ross Byrne [1 from 1]

Penalties: Johnny Sexton [2 from 2]

FRANCE: Anthony Bouthier (yellow card ’10) (Thomas Ramos); Vincent Rattez, Virimi Vakatawa (Arthur Retière ’74), Arthur Vincent, Gaël Fickou; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont (Baptiste Serin ’77); Cyril Baille (Jean-Baptiste Gros ’58), Julien Marchand (Camille Chat ’55), Mohamed Haouas (Demba Bamba ’55); Bernard le Roux, Paul Willemse (Romain Taofifenua); François Cros (Dylan Cretin ’34), Charles Ollivon (captain), Grégory Alldritt.

IRELAND: Jacob Stockdale; Andrew Conway, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki (Chris Farrell ’53), Hugo Keenan; Johnny Sexton (captain) (Ross Byrne ’69), Conor Murray (Jamison Gibson-Park ’66); Cian Healy (HIA – Ed Byrne ’26 to ’36 – permanent ’61), Rob Herring (Dave Heffernan ’58), Andrew Porter (Finlay Bealham ’69); Tadhg Beirne (Ultan Dillane ’61), James Ryan; Caelan Doris (yellow card ’30), Will Connors (Peter O’Mahony ’53), CJ Stander.

Referee: Wayne Barnes [RFU].

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