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Ireland Staring At Early Exit After French Defeat

Ireland Staring At Early Exit After French Defeat

Vincent Clerc struck to deny Ireland for the second time in the space of seven months and in even more devastating fashion as his brace of second half tries left Eddie O’Sullivan’s side on the brink of World Cup elimination.

RUGBY WORLD CUP – POOL D: Friday, September 21

FRANCE 25 IRELAND 3, Stade de France (Att: 79,000)

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Scorers: France: Tries: Vincent Clerc 2; Pens: Jean-Baptiste Elissalde 5
Ireland: Drop: Ronan O’Gara

It was Croke Park revisited and then some as winger Clerc grabbed unconverted tries after 59 and 69 minutes to keep France in the tournament and quash Ireland’s hopes of ending their five-match losing streak against the French.

The clinical place-kicking of scrum half Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, who landed five penalties in all, saw France ghost into a lead they never looked like surrendering against an Irish outfit that again failed to live up to their potential.

Ronan O’Gara’s 37th-minute drop goal got Ireland off the mark and while the men in green did make a confident start to the second half, as soon as France found an extra gear nearing the hour mark, the result was in little doubt.

There was plenty of heart shown by this Irish side but again the crispness of passing, lines of attack and overall inventiveness of the three-quarters were not up to scratch.

Possession and territory wise, Ireland were close to gaining parity with the tournament hosts but the French made far better use of the ball when they had it and had clearly done their homework, particularly on the Irish lineout.

One of the key statistics from the game was that France won all 19 of their lineouts, with athletic back rowers Thierry Dusautoir and Julien Bonnaire in fine form, while Ireland lost five of their 20 throws.

Around the pitch, there were French players winning their individual battles. Frederic Michalak’s defensive incapabilities were never exposed and he held the edge on his opposite number O’Gara who continues to look out of sorts.

Eoin Reddan was always busy at the base of the Irish scrum but too shackled to be able to use his pace in attack. John Hayes, who matched Olivier Milloud in the scrum, a committed but defensively overworked Paul O’Connell and Simon Easterby, whose tackling got Ireland out of jail at times, were the pick of the forwards.

On their day, Ireland can certainly beat France but this was an aggressive show of strength from France as they banished the memories of their opening night flop against Argentina.

Ireland’s early ploy of testing France’s back three with aerial bombs brought little joy and Elissalde opened the scoring in the seventh-minute, having cleverly gained an extra few metres by taking a quick tap.

Ireland gained some good field position off the next couple of phases with an O’Gara up and under coming back on the Irish side, but the number 10’s subsequent penalty attempt was wide of the mark.

France almost snuck in for the game’s opening try on the quarter hour mark. Marcus Horan dropped a pass on the right flank allowing Cedric Heymans to gather and attack with vigour. France forced play out to the right where only a last ditch tackle from Shane Horgan prevented Clement Poitrenaud from scoring.

Two penalties in the space of five minutes from Elissalde stretched les Bleus into a 9-0 lead as the hosts began to take the game to the side they beat to retain the Six Nations title.

While France were having concerted spells of pressure in and around the Irish 22, Ireland were getting little change at the other end. Winger Andrew Trimble’s collision with referee Chris White perhaps summed up just how frustrating a night it would turn out to be for the men in green.

Girvan Dempsey kept Ireland in the hunt as he halted a left wing thrust involving Serge Betsen and Heymans and following a missed penalty from distance from Michalak, O’Gara secured Ireland some much-needed points by dropping a goal with the backing of a penalty advantage.

But Ireland were back defending their try line as the half came to a close. Horgan misjudged the flight of a high ball and had to run it into touch five metres from the Irish whitewash.

Only some resilient defence kept France out as they attempted to rumble over under the posts. They gained a close range penalty and with time running out, Elissalde bisected the posts for a 12-3 French lead at the break.

There were encouraging signs at the start of the second period when flanker Easterby barged forward on an inspiring midfield run and Ireland looked set to heap pressure on the French only for David Wallace to knock on.

For all the huff and puff, Ireland made no inroads on the scoreboard and Elissalde landed his fifth penalty from five attempts to edge the French 12 points clear.

Then came Clerc’s first try and it was a beautifully crafted effort. The enigmatic Michalak, a player often as frustrating as he is brilliant, was the creator as, off a scrum, he dinked a superb outside of the boot kick to the right corner for an unchallenged Clerc to charge up and grab the touchdown.

France have cleverly spotted that Trimble had vacated his left wing station in order to bolster Ireland’s midfield defence where they had expected France to direct play. Instead, Bernard Laporte’s men had conjured up an unconverted try out of nothing.

Five minutes later, Ireland’s challenge was further derailed when O’Connell was sent to the sin bin for coming in at the side of a French maul. Another probing kick to the right corner – this time from Elissalde – garnered a second try for Clerc and France as the Toulouse clubman gathered in the kick, shipped a heavy collision with Dempsey and spun past the tackles of O’Gara and Trimble to fall over the line.

Ireland had the possession to create a try of their own in the closing ten minutes but forced passes, a lack of conviction and some strong-willed defence from the French meant their try line was never truly troubled.

The hosts did end the game down to 14 men as centre Damien Traille was yellow carded for failing to move back the requisite ten metres as Ireland hurriedly tapped a penalty.

Having played conservatively for much of the game, France were out of sight by that time and Irish thoughts were already turning to next Sunday’s meeting with Argentina. The failure to gain a winning bonus point against Georgia and a losing bonus point against the French means Ireland require something of a miracle to now make the World Cup quarter-finals.

They have to beat the Argentinians and run at least four tries past them at the Parc des Princes and hope that the Pumas do not pick up a losing bonus point in the process. Far fetched? Yes. Achievable? Well, anything can happen in rugby, can’t it?

TIME LINE: 7 minutes – France penalty: Jean-Baptiste Elissalde – 3-0; 11 mins – Ireland penalty: missed by Ronan O’Gara; 17 mins – France penalty: Jean-Baptiste Elissalde – 6-0; 21 mins – France penalty: Jean-Baptiste Elissalde – 9-0; 35 mins – France penalty: missed by Frederic Michalak; 37 mins – Ireland drop goal: Ronan O’Gara – 9-3; 40+1 mins – France penalty: Jean-Baptiste Elissalde – 12-3; Half-time – France 12 Ireland 3; 55 mins – France penalty: Jean-Baptiste Elissalde – 15-3; 59 mins – France try: Jean-Baptiste Elissalde – 20-3; conversion: missed by Jean-Baptiste Elissalde; 63 mins – France penalty: missed by Jean-Baptiste Elissalde; 64 mins – Ireland yellow card: Paul O’Connell; 69 mins – France try: Vincent Clerc – 25-3; conversion: missed by Jean-Baptiste Elissalde; 76 mins – France yellow card: Damien Traille; Full-time – France 25 Ireland 3

France: Clement Poitrenaud; Vincent Clerc, David Marty, Damien Traille, Cedric Heymans; Frederic Michalak, Jean-Baptiste Elissalde; Olivier Milloud, Raphael Ibanez (capt), Pieter de Villiers, Sebastien Chabal, Jerome Thion, Serge Betsen, Thierry Dusautoir, Julien Bonnaire.

Replacements used: Lionel Nallet for Chabal (46 mins), Dimitri Szarzewski for Ibanez (57), Yannick Nyanga for Betsen (62), Aurelien Rougerie for Poitrenaud (72), Yannick Jauzion for Marty, Lionel Beauxis for Elissalde, Jean-Baptiste Poux for Milloud (all 74).

Ireland: Girvan Dempsey; Shane Horgan, Brian O’Driscoll (capt), Gordon D’Arcy, Andrew Trimble; Ronan O’Gara, Eoin Reddan; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, Simon Easterby, David Wallace, Denis Leamy.

Replacements used: Frankie Sheahan for Flannery (50-56 mins, blood sub), Neil Best for Easterby, Malcolm O’Kelly for O’Callaghan (both 72), Simon Best for Hayes (75), Sheahan for Flannery (78). Not used: Isaac Boss, Paddy Wallace, Gavin Duffy.

Referee: Chris White (England)