Ireland 32-19 France: Magnificent Six Nations performance sees hosts remain on for Grand Slam tilt
Hugo Keenan, James Lowe, Andrew Porter, Garry Ringrose scored tries for Ireland as they registered a thrilling Six Nations victory over defending Grand Slam champions France at Aviva Stadium; France scored through a Damian Penaud try and the boot of Thomas Ramos
By Michael Cantillon at Aviva Stadium
Last Updated: 11/02/23 5:23pm
Ireland remain on course for a Six Nations Grand Slam after a late Garry Ringrose try made sure of a magnificent 32-19 victory over defending champions France at a rocking Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
In a rip-roaring first half shaded by Ireland, the hosts struck for three tries through Hugo Keenan, James Lowe and Andrew Porter, but a stunning Damian Penaud effort for France, plus the boot of Thomas Ramos kept the visitors in touch.
Ireland 32-19 France - Score summary
Ireland - Tries: Keenan (9), Lowe (21), Porter (27), Ringrose (72). Cons: Sexton (11, 27), Byrne (73). Pens: Sexton (40+1), Byrne (60).
France - Tries: Penaud (18). Cons: Ramos (19). Pens: Ramos (5, 15, 33). Drop-goals: Ramos (62).
France were extremely fortunate not to lose prop Uini Atonio to a red card for a high tackle on Rob Herring - referee Wayne Barnes somehow decreeing yellow was sufficient - but Ireland were fortunate too to have the Lowe try awarded, with a strong suspicion his right boot was momentarily in touch, but no clear evidence to prove so.
The second half, though much more tense and cagey, was no less compelling, as Ireland dealt with the early losses of Tadhg Beirne and Johnny Sexton through injury to force a two-score lead, only for France to reply with a Ramos drop-goal.
Ringrose struck with eight minutes to go to make sure of victory, however, as Andy Farrell's superb charges registered a record-breaking 13th successive victory in Dublin, coming out on top in a titanic meeting between world rugby's No 1 and No 2 ranked sides.
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The Test began in bizarre fashion when Lowe's opening clearance kick collided with the spider camera in operation at the stadium, resulting in a scrum, and it was France who then registered the opening points on five minutes through the boot of Ramos, after Beirne was penalised for failing to roll away as Porter attempted to jackal.
Ireland responded positively, as nice interplay between Ringrose and Sexton created the opportunity for Lowe to kick in behind, forcing Ramos to spill backwards and stand on the touchline, handing Ireland an attacking lineout from six metres out and the first big chance.
Ireland were already missing four key men through injury: Tadhg Furlong (calf), Robbie Henshaw (wrist), Cian Healy (hamstring), Jamison Gibson-Park (hamstring), and then lost a fifth before naming their side, as hooker Dan Sheehan (hamstring) pulled out in a big blow. Rob Herring came in to start in the only change to the side that beat Wales in Cardiff, with Ronan Kelleher onto the bench.
Fabien Galthie named an unchanged France side from the one which struggled to a 29-24 victory over Italy in Rome in Round 1. There were two changes to the replacements: back-row Francois Cros and scrum-half Baptiste Couilloud replacing Thomas Lavault and Nolann Le Garrec.
After over 10 phases in the France 22, and just when it seemed an Ireland try was an inevitability, Porter was desperately held up over the try-line by opposite number Cyril Baille.
If those in the stands were bemoaning the lost chance, they hadn't to wait long for the opening try, as from France's goal-line dropout, a magnificent dummy and pass from tighthead Finlay Bealham on the swivel sent Keenan racing through to score, as the full-back showed too much pace for French defenders Romain Ntamack and Ramos.
Sexton converted for a 7-3 lead, but Ireland were frustrated when a pull back off the ball on wing Mack Hansen was missed, and Ramos was then able to reduce the deficit to 7-6 after France forced a breakdown penalty.
Within minutes, France had the lead after a stunning try filled with running rugby was superbly started and finished by Penaud, with flanker Anthony Jelonch striding clear up the middle of the pitch before offloading for the former to score - and that after the away side had been forced to attack from deep after a Ntamack pass had bounced behind France's attacking line along the turf in the 22.
Less then three minutes later, Ireland responded with their second try as a long Ringrose pass afforded Lowe the chance to sprint for the corner and acrobatically dive to touch down, with the try awarded following a lengthy TMO review in which no clear evidence was found as to whether Lowe's right boot may have scraped the turf before popping back up into the air.
Separate line-breaks from Beirne and Sexton brought Ireland close again in a phenomenal contest, with France lucky to avoid a sin-binning for cynically slowing the ball down a yard from the try-line.
Before play restarted, a TMO review followed for a high tackle by France tighthead Atonio on Ireland hooker Herring. Despite replays showing a shoulder-to-head tackle, with great force, ref Barnes saw fit to brandish yellow claiming there was "not a high degree of danger," in an astonishing call.
Herring would feature no longer, but Ireland put the questionable decision behind them to call a scrum to attack off vs 14, and after phases camped on the France line, struck for a third try as Porter sprung over by the posts for the lead.
A Sexton break from his own 22 two minutes later saw Ireland racing down the left wing - with Penaud lucky to avoid yellow for a late tackle - but hugely physical French defence kept the hosts out, before a James Ryan neck-roll on Ramos granted the visitors a turnover.
Another penalty against Ireland, with Conor Murray trapped on the wrong side, saw Ramos notch points via the tee in the 33rd minute to bring France within three again, before unbelievable Antoine Dupont defence somehow kept Hansen out near the corner flag after a Keenan break and kick. A poor offload attempt in the next phase from Hansen saw the ball land harmlessly into touch.
Ireland continued to push for a bonus-point score before the break, and Murray went close only to be held up over the try-line in the first instance, and then knock-on in a second attempt on advantage. In the end, Sexton registered three more points prior to the interval, after France were pinged for offside, leaving Ireland 22-16 in front.
Leg injuries to Beirne and Sexton saw the task at hand for Ireland get all the more difficult, but Ramos missed his next penalty attempt short, before a brilliant Stuart McCloskey breakdown effort saw the home side survive France's next attack in the 22.
Though palpably tenser in the second period, a fantastic Keenan 50:22 kick broke the ice to hand Ireland their next spell in the France red zone, resulting in a Ross Byrne penalty to stretch the lead out to nine points.
France kept their heads to execute a Ramos drop-goal within two minutes to get back to six points adrift again, before Ireland replacement hooker Ronan Kelleher was held up after Ryan had done well to compete and spoil a France lineout.
With the Test still on a knife-edge heading into the final 10 minutes, Ireland then made sure of victory as Ringrose collected a stunning Caelan Doris offload to race ahead, hand-off Matthieu Jalibert, and step out of and beyond the tackles of Gael Fickou and Romain Taofifenua to send the home support in the Irish capital wild.
After next weekend's fallow week in the Six Nations, Ireland travel to face Italy in Rome at the Stadio Olimpico in Round 3 on Saturday, February 25 (2.15pm kick-off GMT).
Ireland's Six Nations 2023 fixtures
|Saturday, February 4||Wales 10-34 Ireland||2.15pm|
|Saturday, February 11||Ireland 32-19 France||2.15pm|
|Saturday, February 25||Italy vs Ireland||2.15pm|
|Sunday, March 12||Scotland vs Ireland||3pm|
|Saturday, March 18||Ireland vs England||5pm|
France are next in action on Sunday, February 26 (3pm kick-off GMT), as they welcome Scotland to the Stade de France for their Round 3 clash.
France's Six Nations 2023 fixtures
|Sunday, February 5||Italy 24-29 France||3pm|
|Saturday, February 11||Ireland 32-19 France||2.15pm|
|Sunday, February 26||France vs Scotland||3pm|
|Saturday, March 11||England vs France||4.45pm|
|Saturday, March 18||France vs Wales||2.45pm|
What they said...
"It's hard to sum it up but they got the better of us the last couple of years and, since Wales, this was our main focus - we know what sort of side and how tough they were going to be today and it showed out there," Ireland full-back Keenan told ITV Sport.
"We had to work for the whole 80 minutes to break them down and get the win.
"It was a long time coming (beating France), we've had a few tough losses, we've learned from those and brought it in today. It was one we were focusing on so we really enjoyed today."
Head coach Farrell added: "It is a huge game and rightly so. The French unbeaten record and us going for a home record, it all gets thrown in the pot but it's the victory in the competition we want to do well at.
"We will look at that performance and be proud of it. The fight and the spirit that we had was astonishing at times, especially in those last 10 minutes."