Ireland 19-9 France: Irish keep Six Nations title hopes alive
By Tony Tighe
Last Updated: 26/02/17 6:44pm
Ireland overcame a poor start to defeat France 19-9 at the Aviva Stadium and keep their Six Nations title hopes alive.
The home side were guilty of some unstructured play during the opening quarter, playing into France's hands, but moved in front through a try from the outstanding Conor Murray on the half-hour and led 7-6 at the interval.
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A heavy rain shower forced Ireland into a change of strategy and their tactical kicking game bore fruit, the returning Johnny Sexton kicking two penalties and a drop goal during an eight-minute spell after the restart to put 10 points between the teams.
France looked out on their feet as the first half drew to a close but they finished strongly and Camille Lopez's 73rd-minute penalty made it 16-9, but replacement Paddy Jackson quickly responded to ensure Ireland remain unbeaten at home in the Six Nations under Joe Schmidt.
The heavens opened during half-time and it was Ireland who adjusted better to the elements. A couple of high hanging kicks forced errors from the French back three.
Ireland declined kicks at goal during the first half as they chased tries but were content to take their points in the second, Sexton kicking nine points to give his side a buffer.
All eyes were on Sexton, who looked very sharp despite playing such little rugby of late and kicked a fantastic drop-goal, but it was half-back partner Murray who stole the show with an awesome all-round display.
The scrum-half sniped over for the game's only try on 30 minutes after Robbie Henshaw made a strong first-phase carry, and made a vital tackle on Scott Spedding with 15 minutes remaining.
Louis Picamoles again impressed for the visitors early on, making hay in the wide channels, while Noa Nakaitaci's influence grew as France chased the game late doors.
Ireland turned down two kicks at goal in the opening 23 minutes, opting for a scrum and lineout. Neither of them paid dividends and thoughts turned to Murrayfield as scoring chances were squandered.
The hosts looked nervy in defence early on and were fortunate not to concede on 18 minutes when Remi Lamerat dotted down, only for the try to be ruled out by the TMO for a knock-on by Gael Fickou.
France mixed stealth and style, sometimes to great effect, but remain a team dogged by inconsistency.
Man of the match
Stat of the match
67: Metres made by Johnny Sexton on his return from injury.
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt on Johnny Sexton's return: "He varied the game, we varied it up a bit in the second half. We had to try to get them chasing things rather than chasing us.
"I thought he did it superbly, a couple of great kicks in behind. That allowed us to keep the pressure on. He never shirks his defensive responsibilities anyway, Johnny."
France head coach Guy Noves: "I don't have the impression we are progressing but we are building something that is for sure. This match will gives us clues as to how to build further in the future."