Ireland secured back-to-back Six Nations victories by defeating France 19-9 in a gruelling encounter at the Aviva Stadium that all but ended Les Bleus’ hopes of winning a first championship title since 2010.
In front of a packed, raucous Aviva, Ireland and France were both acutely aware that losing simply wasn’t an option. Ireland, having lost to Scotland on the opening day and France, having narrowly succumbed to defeat against England on the opening weekend, had to win in order to have a realistic chance of claiming the 2017 Six Nations Championship.
As Ireland’s Call and La Marseillaise were sang, to much tune, by the some 50,000 thousand paying patrons inside the Aviva, the real business was about to start and France, to their credit, started like the France of old.
Les Bleus were 6-0 up with just 19 minutes on the clock. Having effortlessly repelled Ireland’s one-dimensional attack from the off, France’s Camille Lopez scored a penalty after Scott Spedding, knowing he had the advantage, attempted to chip over the top and catch Ireland’s defence sleeping. France had a deserving lead for their constant pressure.
Moments later, France doubled their lead when, in the lead up to a Lamerat try, the TMO adjudged that there was a forward pass. France were once again playing with the advantage and Lopez split the posts to give the French a significant 6-0 advantage.
Ireland, having been mere passengers for much of the half, had to act, and with ten minutes left until the break, act they did.
Sexton, after breaking through the near impenetrable French defence, chipped behind Huget after breaking on a loop play, off Henshaw, forcing Huget to knock the ball over his own line, resulting in an Irish 5 metre scrum. Conor Murray subsequently managed to dart over the line and secure Ireland’s first points of the day and despite nearly adding a second try later on, Ireland went to the break 7-6 in front.
The second half had no tries, but Ireland, thanks to three penalties and a sublime drop goal by Johnny Sexton went on to claim the spoils to win 19-9 and remain on track in their quest in setting up their final match of the championship, against England, as the championship decider.
Much was made of Sexton before the match. Should he start? Given the imperious form of Paddy Jackson, there were calls to put Sexton on the bench. However, Sexton was instrumental in everything Ireland did well against France. He controlled the backline, made the try and kicked his penalties and a monster drop goal – Sexton proved his worth, once again, against France. When Sexton is fit, Sexton starts.
For Ireland and Joe Schmitz, job done, but there is room for improvement. Ireland were often flat footed, they were repelled a little too easily by France’s blitz defence and the decision by France to take men from the breakdown and, instead, shift them wide resulted in Ireland looking clueless when attacking a well manned France defence.
For France, they competed well, but that will be scant compensation. Having done likewise against England before ultimately squeezing past Scotland, France, despite playing quite well in all their three games to date, find themselves with a record of 1 win, two defeats and no chance of Six Nations glory. Will the glory days ever return for Les Bleus?
Next for Ireland is a trip to the Principality Stadium and a date with a team that no longer has realistic ambitions of championship success. Ireland, if they’re to take the championship to the final weekend must defeat a team that defeated them the last time the teams met in Cardiff’s iconic stadium. That team, of course, is Wales.