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Competent Ireland do enough to see off the French challenge

By Aidan Corr
Aviva Stadium
RBS Six Nations:
Ireland 19, France 9
IT may not have been as fluent and as high-scoring as the previous game in Rome, but Ireland set up an interesting meeting with the Welsh with this hard-earned victory over the French today in the Aviva. Conor Murray got the only try of the game and fully deserved his man of the match award for his overall contribution.
Leading 7-6 at the break, the Irish came in search of another score from their kick-off. The intensity of their play coupled with the guile of Sexton and clever kicking of Murray kept the green shirts going forward and a drop goal and two penalties from Jonathan Sexton pushed the Irish lead to 16-6. France lifted their game after that and played some wonderful running rugby. It tested the Irish defence but the French just could not find that final pass to get a runner clear for could have been a game changing seven pointer. The visitors were still in the game with 13 minutes and the introduction of Munster duo Peter O’Mahony and Niall Scannell as well as Paddy Jackson saw the Irish prepare to see out the game. The French got a renewed vigour in their step and Camille Lopez reduced the lead to seven points with seven minutes remaining from a close-in penalty.
Jackson’s restart was near perfect, pinning the French back in their own third of the field. The Ireland pack slowed down the maul, forced a penalty and Jackson restored the ten point lead. With the French struggling to get their hands on the ball, Ireland played it clever in the dying minutes
A stunning piece of rugby lit up the stadium going into the final quarter with Zebo, Murray and Sexton working a brilliant passing movement that set up another try chance for the Irish. Somehow, the French retrieved the ball and with seconds Ireland had to defend at the other end of the field.
Going into the second quarter of this game Ireland had created very little in the way of getting a score on the board. They trailed 6-0 to a French side that had obviously sussed out the key areas of the opposition’s attack plan and when the Irish had got themselves into decent try scoring territory, they consistently turned the ball over or conceded penalties. Camille Lopez kicked both French penalties on ten and 18 minutes and Ireland were saved by the TMO after Lopez ran in for a well-taken touchdown, the officials calling the play back for an earlier knock-on.
A beautiful wrap-around move involving Jonathan Sexton almost produced an Irish try, the out-half’s kick for Earls forcing a five metre scrum and a resultant penalty. Ireland went for the lineout, Henshaw made the break and Conor Murray dived over. Sexton added the conversion and the Irish were back in the game with a 7-6 lead with 30 minutes played.
France tried to respond quickly but their attacks were laborious and without conviction. Munster came in search of another try, forcing continuous penalties and declining shots at the posts. The prolonged pressure came to nought, referee Owen whistling for a French penalty five metres from the line. The visitors should have played out the remaining minutes but they lost possession close to the touchline and had to endure tense final phases with Ireland again bombarding their line.
Half time, Ireland 7, France 6.
IRELAND: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt), T Furlong, D Ryan, D Toner, CJ Stander, S O’Brien, J Heaslip. Replacements: N Scannell, C Healy, J Ryan, I Henderson, P O’Mahony, K Marmion, P Jackson, A Trimble.
FRANCE: Scott Spedding; Yoann Huget, Remi Lamerat, Gael Fickou, Noa Nakaitaci; Camille Lopez, Baptiste Serin; Curil Baille, Guilhem Guirado (captain), Rabah Slimani, Sebastien Vahaamahina; Yoann Maestri; Bernard Le Roux, Kevin Gourdon, Louis Picamoles. Replacements: Christopher Tolofua, Uini Atonio, Eddy Ben Arous, Julien Le Devedec, Charles Ollivon, Maxime Machenaud, Henry Chavancy, Djibril Camara.

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