Ireland resist heavy late pressure to secure 18-11 Six Nations win over France
Last Updated: 14/02/15 7:43pm
Ireland resisted some desperate late pressure to secure an 18-11 win over France in the Six Nations in Dublin on Saturday.
Jonathan Sexton, returning after three months out with concussion, landed five penalties and Ian Madigan landed another while Sexton was in the blood bin.
Fly-half Camille Lopez was not on his best form for France and only landed two penalties, while the only try of the match came from Romain Taofifenua in the 70th minute.
The win took Ireland's winning streak to nine Tests – their second best ever run – and they will be looking to extend that to 10 when they host England in a fortnight in Dublin.
Sexton slotted over his first penalty over to give the hosts a 3-0 lead in the 14th minute. However, the French drew level three minutes later as Lopez converted a penalty after Rob Kearney failed to release the ball when he was tackled.
The penalty ping-pong continued as Sexton restored the three-point advantage approaching the 20 minute mark.
Sexton looked like he had never been away as he was directing the play and bemusing the French with his positional kicking. But while the Irish were dominating possession and territory, they were failing to convert that into points and often lost their position inside the French 22 by conceding penalties.
Another French infringement allowed Sexton to edge the Irish into a 9-3 lead just at the moment his Racing-Metro team-mate Teddy Thomas exited having been injured in a tackle by Mike Ross.
Lopez added three points for France with the clock ticking down to half-time to leave the Irish with their noses just in front at 9-6, but Sexton had time to restore the six-point advantage in the final minute of the half.
Bloody but unbowed
However, the Irish fans had to hold their breath five minutes into the second half as Bastareaud's head clashed with Sexton's and both emerged bloodied, though the Irishman looked groggier than his French opponent. Both disappeared off for blood-bin treatment.
Sexton's replacement Ian Madigan added a penalty in the 51st minute to make it 15-6 as France coach Philippe Saint-Andre refreshed his whole front row.
French hopes took another hit when Pascal Pape was sin-binned in the 53rd minute for kneeing Jamie Heaslip in the back, although he was fortunate not to receive a red.
France created another good opening thanks to a good run by Yoann Huget but Lopez ruined it by sending another pass wayward to let the Irish off the hook with Wesley Fofana and Remi Lamerat free on the left.
The game tilted against Ireland when Rory Best was sin-binned, but Lopez missed the penalty. Despite still being a man down Sexton, swollen eye and all, added a penalty with 12 minutes remaining to make it 18-6.
However, just as the sin bin was due to finish for Best, France finally crossed the try line with Vincent Debaty passing to giant replacement lock Taofifenua, who strolled over.
Lopez missed the conversion to leave France a converted try away from a draw and even though Les Bleus attempted to pile it on in the dying stages, the hosts held on to win.