Match Report

Ireland claim bonus-point win to keep title hopes alive

Ireland produced their best performance of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations so far as they powered to a 26-14 victory over France.

Ireland produced their best performance of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations so far as they powered to a 26-14 victory over France.

While Les Bleus scored two late tries, this was a controlled performance from the Irish, who secured the bonus point and stay in contention for the Championship.

Joe Schmidt’s side will now go to Cardiff to take on Grand Slam-chasing Wales in Round Five, trailing the Welsh by two points.

Their title hopes are not in their hands, with England sandwiched in between the two sides, but Schmidt at least has a chance of a Championship in his final campaign.

The first half was dominated from start to finish by Ireland, running in three tries and with nearly 90 percent territory.

Rory Best got the ball rolling just three minutes in, before Johnny Sexton and Jack Conan both crossed in quick succession to open up a 19-0 advantage.

Keith Earls added the fourth just before the hour, and despite late tries from Yoann Huget and Camille Chat, the result was never in doubt.

Ireland could not have wished for a better start, a clever early kick from Jordan Larmour forcing Damian Penaud to boot the ball out and concede a five-metre lineout. The home side went to their maul and while a first effort did not work, with France penalised, the second ended with Best crashing over. Sexton added the touchline conversion.

France had barely touched the ball, but almost responded immediately. A clever cross-kick by Romain Ntamack gave Penaud the chance to challenge Larmour in the air. Neither collected at the first attempt, with Penaud then scooping up, drawing the two cover defenders and putting Thomas Ramos in. Unfortunately for the winger, he had knocked the ball on in his first effort to catch the ball and the try was ruled out.

That was as good as it got for France in the first half, with the visitors also hit hard by injuries as Wenceslas Lauret and Jefferson Poirot forced off through injury. The latter came as Cian Healy thought he had a second Irish try. Diving for a ball on the line at the back of a French ruck, he knocked on as he tried to dab down.

The pressure was relentless though, and eventually it told as Sexton crossed from a clever move that saw Garry Ringrose draw two men, with the help of Larmour’s dummy run, to open up a boulevard for the fly-half to stroll through.

Ringrose almost had the third a couple of minutes later, taking a high ball out of the hands of Ramos and diving over. He lost the ball just before the line though and the try was ruled out.

It was only temporary respite, when Demba Bamba was stripped in the tackle in his own 22, Ireland pounced, sending the ball wide for Jack Conan – on for Josh van der Flier – to score.

France showed a little more at the start of the second half, but without really threatening a try. And just before the hour-mark Ireland had their bonus point.

It came from a clever move off a lineout 22 metres out. When the initial maul was stopped, CJ Stander peeled off before feeding inside to Earls to race over untouched. Sexton’s conversion made it 26-0.

France turned to their bench and were at least able to finish with a flourish as Huget and then Chat went over in the last ten minutes, but it was far too little, too late.

It is hard to pick out a specific moment, with Ireland controlling the entire first half, but just after the half-hour they really turned the screw. Up until then, the French defence had just about held firm but the dam finally broke. It was a familiar move, with Johnny Sexton on the wrap, and this time Jordan Larmour was the dummy, drawing in Gaël Fickou and Yoann Huget to send Sexton over.

There were so many big performances from Ireland, with James Ryan showing his worth as he came back into the side. Part of a huge forward effort from the Irish, who were virtually flawless at the breakdown, he also helped the Irish lineout no end. Ryan was also the man to strip Bamba for the third French try, a brilliant all-round performance.