SIX NATIONS: Saturday, March 12Ireland 19 France 26, Lansdowne RoadScorers: Ireland: Try: Brian O'Driscoll; Pens: Ronan O'Gara 4France: Tries: Christophe Dominici 2, Benoit Baby; Cons: Dimitri Yachvili; Pens: Yachvili 2; Drop gl: Yann Delaigue
Back-to-back Triple Crowns remain in the offing with a trip to Wales' Millennium Stadium to come next Saturday - but this was a bitterly disappointing way to bow out of the 2005 Grand Slam race.
Scotland's second half exertions against the Welsh in their 46-22 loss at Murrayfield means the Championship is still up for grabs - and likely to be won on points if Eddie O'Sullivan's Irish can come up trumps in the cauldron of Cardiff.
At Lansdowne Road, it may have been French captain Fabien Pelous' 100th cap which drew the initial plaudits, but it was the visitors' debutant centre who proved the real 'Million Dollar Baby'.
Centre prodigy Benoit Baby ignited France's chances of a first win in Dublin since 1999 as his 32nd-minute try gifted Bernard Laporte's men an 18-9 half-time lead.
Winger Christophe Dominici - just four minutes earlier - had nabbed his first try in 12 tests and the Stade Frangais veteran confirmed the victory with two minutes remaining, touching down after a questionable Serge Betsen ruck steal.
Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll once more proved his side's talisman. His 27th Test try - a snappy 73rd-minute run and jink past substitute Freddy Michalak - gave O'Sullivan's men heart and a two-point deficit.
However, their late charge mattered little as Dominici breached the outside cover only moments later and for the fifth season in-a-row, the best Ireland can hope for is four wins from five - not a bad hope, but not 'the full bag of chips' as the phrase goes.
France - despite staring into a brisk breeze in the first-half - opened the better, and just as they had done in their 24-18 loss to Wales two weeks ago - foraged clear for a break advantage.
This time, it was through their superior forwards as time and again, from 50-cap prop Sylvain Marconnet through to barnstorming Bourgoin number eight Julien Bonnaire - they bossed the issue up front.
However, Sebastien Bruno did offer up Ireland their first points on 8 minutes as the Sale hooker rucked offside. Ronan O'Gara obliged from the left but as was the pattern, France immediately replied. Following two defiant 20-metre mauls, Yann Delaigue - keeping Michalak on the bench - popped over a neat 28-metre goal.
Ireland's forwards were disturbingly off-the-boil and with blue hands bossing possession, even the much-vaunted home lineout was going askew. O'Gara kept the scoreboard ticking nonetheless. A high tackle on his skipper saw the Munster fly-half kick over from 33 metres for 6-3.
Ill-discipline from Simon Easterby allowed Dimitri Yachvili level again and although O'Gara crept over the second of two attempts to become Ireland's record points scorer on 514 points - one ahead of David Humphreys - the home side were then undone defensively by two sizzling line breaks.
9-6 down, a searing midfield incision from Brive full back Julien Laharrague on 28 minutes, allowed Cedric Heymans offload for Dominici to outdo Denis Hickie for the right corner.
Incidentally the 32-year-old's last touch down came in November 2003 - again, against Ireland . Yachvili dragged the conversion wide, but just four minutes later Baby - another product off the Toulouse conveyor belt - cut completely through the Irish rearguard to score from 40 metres out.
France added the extras through Yachvili to confirm their dominance. Without a defeat at the venue in two years, Ireland were stung, and roared back into contention as they mixed up their game plan and kept in contention with a meatier supply of the ball on the restart.
O'Gara banged over his fourth penalty seven minutes. Yachvili stemmed the green tide on the hour with a well-struck penalty from the right. On 65 minutes, Ireland offered up the chance of a slot at the posts in favour of a lineout drive - a decision which ultimately went against them at the death.
Three minutes later, Dominici rescued Laporte's men as he slapped away an O'Gara dink through, with Hickie in close attendance.
O'Driscoll then danced clear - with the steadying influence of Pelous off-the-field, and the supposedly injured Michalak on it - to score under the posts and raise the Lansdowne roof. O'Gara duly converted to reduce the arrears to 21-19.
Could they do it? The answer was no. Ireland never regained a footing in French territory after that, and their last coughing up of possession with Betsen robbing Malcolm O'Kelly for Dominici's second, summed up a poor day at the office for the men in green.
A first home defeat in two years is hard to stomach, but ending the 2005 tournament against the all-conquering Dragons at the weekend, should see the fire return to Ireland's belly.
(15) Geordan Murphy(14) Girvan Dempsey(13) Brian O'Driscoll (Capt)(12) Kevin Maggs(11) Denis Hickie
Replacements used: Marcus Horan for Corrigan, Eric Miller for Foley (both 71 mins). Not used: Frankie Sheahan, Donncha O'Callaghan, Guy Easterby, David Humphreys, Gavin Duffy.
(15) Julien Laharrague(14) Cedric Heymans(13) Yannick Jauzion(12) Benoit Baby(11) Christophe Dominici(10) Yann Delaigue(9) Dimitri Yachvili(1) Sylvain Marconnet(2) Sebastien Bruno(3) Nicolas Mas(4) Fabien Pelous (Capt)(5) Jerome Thion(6) Serge Betsen(7) Yannick Nyanga(8) Julien Bonnaire
Replacements used: Pieter De Villiers for Mas (half-time), Gregory Lamboley for Nyanga (55), Frederic Michalak for Delaigue (70), Pascal Pape for Pelous (72), Dimitri Szarzewski for Bruno (77). Not used: Pierre Mignoni, David Marty.
RBS Man-of-the-match: Benoit Baby (France)HT: Ireland 9 France 18; Attendance: 49,250Referee: Tony Spreadbury (England)