France thrash Ireland in Six Nations
A disciplined France performance ended Ireland's 15-month unbeaten run after a 33-10 victory in the Six Nations championship at the Stade de France.
France scored three tries to one on Saturday (Sunday morning NZ time), dominating the scrum and holding off sustained bouts of Irish pressure with a well organised defence and ferocious, controlled tackling.
The Blues led 17-3 at halftime through tries from hooker William Servat and centre Yannick Jauzion, both converted by scrumhalf Morgan Parra, leaving the reigning champions with a mountain to climb in the second half.
"Paris is always a difficult place to come to when you go 14 points behind fairly quickly and as a result, even though I thought the boys stayed at it, we were never able to make any inroads to it," Irish coach Declan Kidney said.
France controlled their lead efficiently in the second half, keeping Ireland pinned back before fullback Clement Poitrenaud added a third try. Parra converted, later adding a drop goal to go with two penalties.
Irish flanker David Wallace scored a second half try that was converted by flyhalf Ronan O'Gara, who also scored a first half penalty.
But a late drop goal by France substitute Frederic Michalak drove the final nail into Ireland's hopes of repeating last season's grand slam.
France coach Marc Lievremont praised the intelligence of his players, notably the halfback combination of Parra and flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc.
But he picked out the controlled way the whole team soaked up an intense period of Irish pressure at the start of the game as the decisive phase of the match.
"The first quarter of an hour was particularly difficult but, looking back, it was the moment in the match that gave me the most satisfaction because we stood up to this Irish team that played excellent rugby," said Lievremont.
Ireland dominated the first phase and centre Gordon D'Arcy nearly scored with a chip and chase but France held out against a wave of green shirts until the pressure was broken when prop Cian Healy was given a yellow card.
That opened up a period when France scored 10 points to build a lead the visitors never threatened, despite a sustained assault on the French line just before the halftime break.
The powerful home forwards got the better of the Irish pack in the set pieces and rucks, notably during a series of scrums near the line that led to the first try when Servat barged over under the posts.
"It's very difficult to identify the moment when you have the upper hand over another team," Blues captain Thierry Dusautoir said.
"But that gave us a lot of confidence and the fact that they lost a man must have cost them physically. I think you could see that at the end of the match."
With the halfbacks delivering smooth ball, the three quarter line also functioned well, with Mathieu Bastareaud providing a powerful display and Poitrenaud also showing penetration.
Ireland played bravely and with flair at times but Healy's absence and a series of small mistakes left them stranded.
"If the ball had bounced a little differently for Gordon, if we'd got the score just before halftime, maybe," Kidney said. "Maybe, maybe. It doesn't matter. It just didn't happen for us today."