Six Nations

Ireland down France

2015-02-14 21:26
Jonathan Sexton (AFP)

Dublin - Flyhalf Jonathan Sexton produced a man of the match performance on his return after a 12 week absence to inspire defending Six Nations champions Ireland to an 18-11 victory over France at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

The 29-year-old - who was stood down for suffering four concussions last year - kicked 15 points against a France side that only really sparked into gear in the final 10 minutes, when they scored the only try of the game through Romain Taofifenua.

It took Ireland's winning streak to nine tests - their second best ever run - but that will be sorely tested by England in a fortnight in Dublin.

"Delighted to get the win again, back to back wins over the French are rare," said Sexton.

"We had to dig deep but we came away with the points. We have a lot to improve on. We have a big match in front of us in a fortnight."

Ireland captain Paul O'Connell added: "Any win over France is an immense achievement and to have back to back wins is fantastic."

Sexton showed he was in good nick early on as he lofted a beautiful cross field kick knowing he had a penalty to come if it didn't come off, but Tommy Bowe wasn't quite able to catch the ball.

The Irish fly-half, though, slotted the penalty over to give the hosts a 3-0 lead in the 14th minute.

However, the French drew level three minutes later as Lopez converted a penalty after Rob Kearney failed to release the ball when he was tackled.

The penalty ping-pong continued as Sexton restored the three point advantage approaching the 20 minute mark.

Sexton looked like he had never been away as he was directing the play and bemusing the French with his positional kicking. But while the Irish were dominating possession and territory, they were failing to convert that into points and losing their position inside the French 22 by conceding penalties.

Another French infringement allowed Sexton to edge the Irish into a 9-3 lead just at the moment his Racing-Metro team-mate Teddy Thomas exited having been injured in a tackle by Mike Ross.

Lopez added three points for France with the clock ticking down to half-time to leave the Irish with their noses just in front at 9-6, but Sexton had time to restore the six point advantage in the final minute of the half.

However, the Irish fans had to hold their breath five minutes into the second-half as Bastareaud's head clashed with Sexton's and both emerged bloodied, though the Irishman looked groggier than his French opponent.

Both disappeared off for blood bin treatment.

Sexton's replacement Ian Madigan carried on from where his predecessor had left off and added a penalty in the 51st minute for 15-6 as France coach Philippe Saint-Andre refreshed his whole front row.

The French were hit as Pascal Pape was sin-binned in the 53rd minute, after a long consultation between referee Wayne Barnes and the TV official Graham Hughes, for kneeing Jamie Heaslip in the back, although he was fortunate not to receive a red.

France created another good opening thanks to a good run by Yoann Huget but Lopez ruined it by sending another wayward pass to let the Irish off the hook with Wesley Fofana and Remi Lamerat free on the left.

Ireland wasted chances to put the game beyond the visitors reach, Sexton sending a poor pass into Jared Payne's face when the tryline was beckoning, and the game tilted perhaps against them when Rory Best was sin-binned.

Lopez, though, missed the penalty while Heaslip, still feeling the effects of the Pape incident, had to go off.

Despite still being a man down Sexton, swollen eye and all, added a penalty with 12 minutes remaining to make it 18-6.

However just as the sin bin was due to finish for Best, France finally crossed the tryline with Vincent Debaty passing to the giant replacement lock Taofifenua who strolled over - Lopez missed the conversion to leave them a converted try away from a draw.

Read more on:    six nations  |  jonathan sexton  |  rugby

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