Two tries in the space of five minutes in the latter part of the third quarter gave France the impetus to open their RBS Six Nations campaign with a comfortable four tries to two, 35-17 victory over Ireland in Stade de France last Saturday. Those tries came at a crucial stage of the game because Ireland had clawed their way back with a try, just after the restart, from Anthony Foley, created and converted by Ronan O'Gara.
That saw the French lead reduced to a single point (11-10) after Ireland had produced a gutsy first half performance. Ireland really needed to contain the French after O'Gara had added the conversion but instead the home side switched on the after burners and scorched fifteen points clear with some scintillating running rugby.
The initial damage was done when O'Gara kicked long, the ball gathered, outside his own 22, by Christophe Dominici who quickly transferred to full-back, Nicolas Brusque. He set off on a run, found Dominici in support and the Stade winger had Serge Betsen inside to keep the movement flowing. Betsen off-loaded one-handed to newcomer Pascal Pape to score and minutes later another neat off-load in midfield set up a try for Yannick Jauzion. Both scores were converted by Frederic Michalack the road back for Ireland was a very long one indeed.
To their credit they never dropped their heads and their efforts were rewarded when Tyrone Howe took Gordon D'Arcy's pass in the tackle to score, although there were claims that Howe had used a double-movement to get the try.
It could be argued that the French sat back, their victory assured and confined themselves to containing the final quarter Irish onslaught. Nevertheless, the Irish were never going to allow this to deteriorate into a rout and on two occasions came close to adding to their try tally.
However, France were not done with and with less than four minutes of normal time remaining, scrum-half Jean-Baptiste Elissalde broke close to a ruck to race in for his side's fourth try.
It was a victory that the French richly deserved. They looked a little vulnerable in that openeing half, particularly in the opening quarter, when Ireland enjoyed their best and most prolonged period of dominace. However, when the French finally managed to put a few phases together, one felt that tries were inevitable and so it proved.
A few metre gaining drives by their big men, Pelous and Magne tied up the Irish cover and when the French spread it wide, Clerc was never going to be stopped.
The Irish responded in superb fashion with that Foley try but once again the French weaved their own particular brand of magic to score the tries that effectively decided the outcome. Ireland: Girvan Dempsey (Leinster); Shane Horgan (Leinster), Gordon D'Arcy (Leinster), Kevin Maggs (Bath/ENG), Tyrone Howe (Ulster); RonanO'Gara (Munster), Peter Stringer (Munster); Anthony Foley (Munster), KeithGleeson (Leinster), Simon Easterby (Llanelli/WAL); Paul O'Connell (Munster,capt), Malcolm O'Kelly (Leinster); John Hayes (Munster), Shane Byrne(Leinster), Reggie Corrigan (Leinster) Replacements: Donncha O'Callaghan (Munster) for O'Kelly,60 mins; Frank Sheahan(Munster) for Byrne, 61 mins; Anthony Horgan (Munster) for Howe, 78 mins; Victor Costello (Leinster) for Gleeson, 80 min.
France: Nicolas Brusque (Biarritz); Vincent Clerc (Toulouse), Yannick
Referee - Chris White (Eng).