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Ireland Miss Out In Frantic Finish

Ireland Miss Out In Frantic Finish

Ireland’s Championship debut at the Aviva Stadium ended in disappointment as France won Sunday’s heavyweight contest, despite being outscored by three tries to one.

Tries from winger Fergus McFadden and scrum half Tomas O’Leary had Ireland leading by 15-12 half-time and the reigning RBS 6 Nations champions appeared ripe for the taking.

Winger Maxime Medard crossed to help France back into the driving seat, with place-kickers Morgan Parra and Dimiti Yachvili scoring 20 points between them.

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A 68th minute try from number 8 Jamie Heaslip set up a grandstand finish at 25-22, but there was no further scoring as Ireland, despite carrying more of an attacking threat, were held at bay.

It was an agonising outcome to a gripping showdown and unfortunately for Declan Kidney’s charges, the result represents Ireland’s ninth defeat in their last 10 meetings with France dating back to 2003.

Their hopes of wrestling back the title from France have been hit, but they will take comfort from a brave and ambitious performance that saw them put les Bleus under serious pressure – particularly in the opening half.

Blessed with attacking options, both teams looked to move the ball wide whenever possible and the new Lansdowne Road was treated to a tense and thrilling spectacle that ebbed and flowed throughout.

The tone was set from the kick-off, Ireland making an explosive start with Luke Fitzgerald crossing in the left corner after three minutes, only for Gordon D’Arcy’s final pass to be adjudged forward.

Two minutes later they breached the whitewash, capitalising when full-back Clement Poitrenaud dropped the ball as France launched an ill-advised counter attack from their own 22.

McFadden, in only his second Test, pounced on the loose ball and then reappeared a few phases later to show great strength to burrow over from close range.

His Leinster colleague Jonathan Sexton converted and France’s forgettable opening continued when they sent the restart straight into touch, though a mistake from O’Leary eased the pressure.

It was the champions’ turn to attack and Ireland defended until straying offside and the pinpoint Parra landed the penalty.

Back on the offensive, Kidney’s side almost released McFadden into space but Sexton’s pass was too weighted and France were let off the hook.

An almighty cheer sounded in the 15th minute when France’s scrum, fresh from an impressive showing against Scotland last weekend, collapsed.

It was a statement of intent from the Irish front row and Sexton kicked the ensuing penalty to move the lead out to 10-3, although Parra replied in kind soon after.

Ireland looked brilliant at times but, as in Rome, they were making unforced handling errors at key moments, preventing them from building momentum. Adding to their problems was the accurate kicking of Parra, who was able to rifle over a third penalty.

O’Leary erred when he sent a chip straight into touch and when Donncha O’Callaghan conceded a kickable penalty, Parra stepped up to boot France ahead for the first time.

Ireland struck next to take a 15-12 lead into the interval. O’Leary, who has been nursing a back injury, charged through France’s defence to start the move before later finishing it by breaking a tackle and forcing the ball over the whitewash.

Francois Trinh-Duc had a drop goal attempt charged down by lively flanker Sean O’Brien moments after France centre Damien Traille almost broke free down the left.

Ireland’s scrum continued in the ascendancy, winning a free-kick and then shoving the French pack backwards, but a fifth Parra penalty tied things up in the 50th minute.

A scrum inside the visitors’ 22 offered a great attacking platform for Ireland but the subsequent back-line move did not come off and les Bleus defended it.

France scored from a similar position in the 55th minute, in what was a game-changing moment. Aurelien Rougerie rushed forward and broke past D’Arcy before drawing Fitzgerald and supplying Maxime Medard with the scoring pass.

Replacement scrum half Dimitri Yachvili, who came on for Parra, landed the conversion and suddenly Marc Lievremont’s side were 22-15 in front.

Yachvili slotted a penalty to stretch that lead but Ireland refused to give up hope and were rewarded with a converted score from Heaslip, with 12 minutes left on the clock.

It took 26 phases close to the whitewash before France cracked, a kick from replacement out-half Ronan O’Gara broke for David Wallace to send his back row colleague over in the right corner.

O’Gara’s excellent conversion struck the left post on its way over, setting up a nerve-jangling climax.

Heart rates soared with two minutes to go when the influential O’Gara set Ireland on the attack from deep. Keith Earls chipped ahead and the men in green hunted in numbers, but France’s scrambling defence was superb.

Last-ditch tackles held firm and when a final knock on foiled Ireland’s late surge towards the try-line, the French were able to breath a sigh of relief as they picked up their second win in this year’s Championship.