France dashed any hopes Ireland had securing the Six Nations Championship. The home side produced a dominant second half to take the game, for Ireland, it was a performance littered with mistakes.
France’s efforts were spearheaded by halfbacks Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack while up front, the forwards disrupted Ireland, with Gregory Alldritt and Charles Ollivon providing a solid platform and Dylan Cretin disrupting the Irish lineout off the bench in the second half.
Although not the whole story, match statistics on the Six Nations website paint a picture of Ireland’s problems: 14 bad passes, 14 handling errors saw Andy Farrell’s side fail to capitalise on over 4 minutes in the French 22 compared to France’s 1:39 in the Irish red zone.
France (17) 35
TRY: Antoine Dupont, Penalty Try, Romain Ntamack, Virimi Vakatawa
CON: Romain Ntamack (2), Penalty Try
PEN: Romain Ntamack (3)
Ireland (13) 27
TRY: Cian Healy, Robbie Henshaw, Jacob Stockdale
CON: Johnny Sexton (2) Ross Byrne
PEN: Johnny Sexton
The game kicked off in an empty stadium and Ireland elected for a shot at goal from almost 60 metres with Conor Murray taking the tee four minutes into the match. The kick was missed, but I’d question this decision, especially as they turned down a closer chance in the last play of the half when they had a man in the bin. While Ireland usually like to opt for the corner, I thought it was a change in tactic due to what was at stake in the game – not a bad one, as Ireland only had to win by seven points.
The first of many mistakes resulted in France’s first try. Vincent Rattez leapt highest to keep the ball in field from a kick and was rewarded for his efforts with France recovering possession. Ntamack stepped past a Johnny Sexton tackle, giving him space to pass to Gael Fickou on the left wing. A mismatch on the wing, Fickou ghosted past Andrew Porter and found Dupont on the inside for the scrum half to score.
Two big calls followed for referee Wayne Barnes to make and I thought he called them both correct. First, he correctly sent Anthony Bouthier to the sin bin for a deliberate slap into touch in his in goal area. There were calls for a penalty try however I think Hugo Keenan had over ran the ball and with Fickou covering, it’s uncertain whether a try would have been scored, so no penalty try.
The second call was a penalty try to France. A fumble on the ground from Jacob Stockdale allowed Francois Cros to hack through and was tackled off the ball by Caelan Doris, leaving Barnes no option but to go under the post and send the Leinsterman to the bin.
Cian Healy crossed for a try on his 100th appearance between both yellow cards before Sexton and Ntamack traded penalties at the end of the half.
Stockdale has copped a lot of flak on social media for his error that resulted in the penalty try. It was a horrific error – instead of trying to pick the ball up he should have went to ground, he’ll know that – and a below par performance from the Ulsterman, but we shouldn’t completely write off his chances as an Irish 15.
The second half was a collective malfunction from an Irish perspective and France lived off Irish mistakes which were plentiful. Passes weren’t going to hand and it only took three minutes before France scored their third try.
An aerial bomb from Sexton was well taken by Bouthier but there was no defensive line following the kick up. Bouthier offloaded to Ntamack who spotted that Ireland only had Doris defending a large blindside. Fickou’s kick through was gathered by Dupont and his flick inside was grounded by the out half.
I thought it was a decent kick from Sexton as it was well weighted and allowed Andrew Conway to jump without having to check his run. The problem came when there was over defensive line following up as a safety net to stop the counter attack.
Robbie Henshaw scored a fantastic solo try for Ireland’s second of the afternoon. The try came out of nothing as Henshaw beat the tackle of the first defender to open up the French defence and another two tackle evasions saw the Athlone player score in the corner. It left Ireland eight points behind with two tries to secure the bonus point. Ireland were by no means out of it but needed to use the try to kick start some momentum.
France were the next on the board however with Virimi Vakatawa touching down. A very good try that resulted because of a moment of brilliance from Ntamack as he cut the Irish defence open with a chipped kick. Stockdale crossed for a consolation try in the last play of the game to bring the score to within eight points.
Both sides have plenty of quality players coming through the U20 system. We’ve seen Leinster’s conveyer belt, while Ulster and Munster aren’t in bad positions either. France are perhaps further down the line – Dupont, Ntamack, Demba Bamba, Jordan Joseph and Cameron Woki are all internationally capped. France are building nicely towards a Rugby World Cup on home turf and while it’s too early to write off Irish chances yet, I’d like to see Ireland have less of a reliance on Murray and Sexton.
Hopefully we’ll see Ireland experiment in the upcoming Autumn Nations Cup.
FRANCE: Anthony Bouthier, Vincent Rattez, Virimi Vakatawa, Arthur Vincent, Gael Fickou, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont, Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Mohamed Haouas, Bernard Le Roux, Paul Willemse, Francois Cros, Charles Ollivon (C), Gregory Alldritt. Replacements: Camille Chat, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Demba Bamba, Romain Taofifenua, Dylan Cretin, Baptiste Serin, Arthur Retiere, Thomas Ramos
IRELAND: Jacob Stockdale, Andrew Conway, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Hugo Keenan, Jonathan Sexton (C), Conor Murray, Cian Healy, Rob Herring, Andrew Porter, Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan, Caelan Doris, Will Connors, CJ Stander. Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Ed Byrne, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Peter O’Mahony, Jamison Gibson Park, Ross Byrne, Chris Farrell