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France 30-24 Ireland: Hosts edge Six Nations thriller in Paris to make it two victories from two

The only surprise was that one of the French dignitaries did not emerge to present the Six Nations trophy to their boys in blue. They celebrated as if they had just won the competition, with the stands transforming into a three-coloured tapestry of flags, and it would take a brave man to write them off now.

It is 12 years since France last won the title but they are back; bigger and better than before. If they can replicate this performance in Edinburgh and Cardiff, the crown should be theirs. At times, watching Antoine Dupont lead the tour de force was like witnessing Lionel Messi conduct Barcelona in their prime.

They threw passes that no one else could see, ran support lines that no one else could feel and attacked with a precision their rivals can only dream of.

France secured a thrilling 30-24 victory over Ireland in the Six Nations on Saturday at the Stade de France in Paris

Making it two victories from their first two matches, France cemented themselves as Six Nations favourites

Making it two victories from their first two matches, France cemented themselves as Six Nations favourites

MATCH FACTS

Ireland: Keenan; Conway, Ringrose, Aki, Hansen; Carbery, Gibson Park; Porter, Kelleher, Furlong, Beirne, Ryan (c), Doris, Van der Flier, Conan.

Replacements: Sheehan, Healy, Bealham, Henderson, O’Mahony, Murray, Carty, Henshaw.

Tries: Hansen, Van der Flier, Gibson Park

Conversion: Carbery 3

Penalties: Carbery

France: Jaminet; Penaud, Fickou, Moefana, Villiere; Ntamack, DuPont; Baille, Marchand, Atonio, Woki, Willemse, Cros, Jelonch, Alldritt.

Replacements: Mauvaka, Gros, Bamba, Taofifenua, Flament, Cretin, Lucu, Ramos.

Tries: Dupont, Baille, Jaminet

Penalties: Jaminet 6

If rugby matches only lasted 50 minutes, France would be nailed on to become World Cup champions in this very stadium next year.

There were times in the second half when they creaked but still Ireland could not find a way to overcome them.

Andy Farrell’s team delivered a performance full of guts and resilience, playing their part in a full-blooded test match, but ultimately they could not match the French brilliance.

Before the game, supporters gorged on the front-page headlines of Le Parisen billing this game as Le Finale. There were pages of coverage about the numerous challengers for Emmanuel Macron’s presidency, followed by pages more coverage about this year’s two-horse rugby title race.

France were not overawed by the expectation, flying out to score the first try inside 75 seconds. They forced Jamison Gibson-Park to rush his clearance kick, before throwing a quick lineout to launch their first attack of the game.

They moved the ball from coast to coast and then Romain Ntamack cut through the defence, lobbing a blind offload for Dupont to score.

Marshalled by Shaun Edwards, the French defenders hounded Ireland’s ball carriers. They hunted down the ball, hit with intent and forced turnovers that allowed Melvyn Jaminet to kick three-pointers. France were 10-0 up within six minutes, with Damian Penaud showing some majestic touches down his wing, and suddenly Ireland were chasing the game.

They didn’t panic. Even without the talismanic Jonathan Sexton, they stuck to the task. It feels like a state of emergency whenever Ireland loses their 36-year-old fly-half, but his understudy Joey Carbery grew into the game with a performance to ease any long-term fears. He launched a pinpoint restarted into the arms of Mack Hansen, who was given the freedom of the left wing to score with an immediate riposte.

France opened the scoring inside the first two minutes on Saturday afternoon with Antoine du Pont touching down

France opened the scoring inside the first two minutes on Saturday afternoon with Antoine du Pont touching down

Ireland's Jamison Gibson Park broke free from Julien Marchand to score a try for the visitors but it wasn't enough

Ireland’s Jamison Gibson Park broke free from Julien Marchand to score a try for the visitors but it wasn’t enough

Some of the collisions were huge. Tadhg Furlong bounced into Uini Atonio like two male hippos during mating season. And for the best part of 50 minutes, France came out on top. The ruck clearouts were ferocious. At one point, the giant Bundee Aki was hit so hard that he rolled two meters backwards. With the weight of Paul Willemse and athleticism of Cameron Woki, they squeezed penalties from the scrum and disrupted Ireland’s lineout.

Jaminet edged France into an unassailable 22-7 lead, kicking points off the back of Irish errors and an otherworldly four-man miss pass by Dupont.

Eventually, however, their heavyweights tired. Josh van der Flier touched down from the back of a driving lineout, before live wire Gibson-Park stepped around Willemse as Ireland scored 14 points in four second-half minutes.

‘Ten points down after six minutes certainly wasn’t in the script but fair play to France,’ said head coach Farrell.

‘Getting in front and to make sure we start well is something we need to look at. Obviously getting to a stage early on in the second half when it was 22-7, that shows everything about our side really. The character, the guts, the fitness levels, the want to go and play and get ourselves back in the game. I couldn’t be more proud of them.’

Sensing weakness among their own, the home crowd came back to life. Gone are the days of the Gallic shrug. They have bought back into French rugby, which could be key come next year’s World Cup. The replacements forced a turnover from a counter-ruck deep in Irish territory, before Dupont sent over Cyril Baille for a close-range try.

Cyril Baille ensured France secured their second victory of the Six Nations with a try in Paris in a scintillating encounter

Cyril Baille ensured France secured their second victory of the Six Nations with a try in Paris in a scintillating encounter

Melvyn Jaminet's late penalty ensured Les Bleus took all the points at the Stade de France as they eyed the Grand Slam

Melvyn Jaminet’s late penalty ensured Les Bleus took all the points at the Stade de France as they eyed the Grand Slam

There were signs of weariness in the closing quarter and Carbery got his team into the right areas of the pitch. The chance was there but, trailing by six points, Ireland lived to regret their decision to kick for points in the 73rd minute, rather than go for the match-winning try. ‘It just felt like it was the right decision at the time,’ said Ireland skipper James Ryan. ‘We were imposing our game on them in that period. We felt confident in our attack and thought we could bring the game to three points and backed ourselves to then win.’

France coach Fabien Galthie said: ‘When you play that sort of team you have to accept that sometimes we have a weak moment but we have to limit the damage. We were able to take control again. There is the collective experience as a team that is improving.’

France had one final flourish, after Gael Fickou chipped the ball over the top, only for Jaminet to be held up over the line. Instead, they kicked the penalty to seal a victory that will send a message to all four corners of the rugby world.

Ireland gave it their all and looked dejected at the end, but it wasn't enough as the the hosts ran out worth winners in the end

Ireland gave it their all and looked dejected at the end, but it wasn’t enough as the the hosts ran out worth winners in the end

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