Friday, October 07, 2022

France holds off Ireland 30-24 to stay on 6N title track

PARIS ( Associated Press) — France withstood an Ireland comeback to win a classic between the Six Nations favorites 30-24 on Saturday and stay firmly on track for a first title since 2010.

Ireland was on a roll of nine straight wins since losing to France in the tournament last year but came to Stade de France without injured captain Jonathan Sexton in the lineup.

They looked dazed when Les Tricolores led 22-7 a few minutes into the second half, thanks to a brilliant early try from scrumhalf Antoine Dupont and faultless kicking from fullback Melvyn Jaminet.

But within minutes and a blur of green, it was suddenly a one-point game as Ireland scored clinical tries through flanker Josh Van der Flier and scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park.

The French formed a huddle, the packed crowd got behind them, and mobile prop Cyril Baille stemmed the green tide with a fine try as the home side showed their resourcefulness and fight.

France united as Ireland fought to close the six-point gap in the last 20 minutes.

Ireland took a penalty by Sexton’s able replacement, Joey Carbery, to trail only 27-24 with seven minutes to go, and French fans broke out into the national anthem.

They roared in the 77th when Jaminet sprinted over in the left corner after brilliant work from replacement lock Thibaud Flament. But the try wasn’t given because Jaminet couldn’t ground the ball in Dan Sheehan’s wrap tackle, and Jaminet, instead, slotted his sixth penalty.

Moments later, flyhalf Romain Ntamack kicked the ball out to the biggest roar of the evening, the victory leaving France as the only unbeaten side through two rounds.

“We knew we needed to raise our game. That’s what we talked about all week and we were confident,” Dupont said. “The biggest satisfaction is that all of us rose to the challenge.”

Arguably the best halves in world rugby, who have honed their partnership at Toulouse, Dupont and Ntamack took little more than 60 seconds to unlock Ireland’s renowned defense.

After Dupont’s quick throw-in and prop Uini Atonio’s barging run, a surrounded Ntamack threw a no-look, one-handed offload inside to Dupont to sprint over after 67 seconds. It was the quickest Ireland has conceded a try in the Six Nations era.

Jaminet converted and added a penalty in the seventh minute for 10-0 and the excitement was ramping up as the crowd watched a classic unfold.

“It was difficult. We were up against a tough opponent. We gave everything we had for this win,” France coach Fabien Galthie said. “Now we need to recover and prepare for our away games.”

France can dream of a first Grand Slam since 2010 but must win in Scotland and Wales before hosting England in the last round on March 19.

Mistakes will need to be cut out.

The old erratic streak returned when Ireland left winger Mack Hansen was gifted his first international try with Ireland 10-0 down.

From Carbery’s restart, Jaminet and right winger Damian Penaud stared at each other but didn’t talk, so Hansen stole the kickoff ball to scamper clear. Making his first Six Nations start, Carbery converted.

Under pressure from France’s line speed, Ireland gave away a third penalty inside 16 minutes — having hardly given anything when dispatching Wales 29-7 a week ago — and Jaminet restored France’s six-point lead.

Jaminet’s reputation as a kicker is high after he landed all of his kicks when New Zealand was beaten last November. And he made it five from five in the first half with two more tidy penalties as France got on top of Ireland’s scrum, with Ronan Kelleher off injured, then punished an offside moments after the break.

Opportunist Ireland turned the game on its head, though, with chilling efficiency.

From a lineout maul, the Irish bulldozed France and Van der Flier peeled off. The forwards then went through ruck after ruck and scattered the French to leave Gibson-Park a free run off a ruck to the tryline.

But it’s not all about Dupont and Ntamack in this exciting side.

Atonio steamed into the Irish, Dupont recycled to the onrushing Baille and he reached out in a tackle to score and shift momentum back to France.

“We expected a fight and got one,” Penaud said. “But we got our heads back together.”


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