Header Ban

Ruthless Ireland begins Six Nations title defense by crushing France 38-17

MARSEILLE, France (AP) — Ruthless Ireland began its Six Nations title defense by crushing an undisciplined France 38-17 at Stade Velodrome on Friday.

France played the second half down a man after lock Paul Willemse’s second yellow card late in the first period. But even then, France was already trailing 17-3.

Ireland, assured, organized and powerful, scored five tries, all of them converted by flyhalf Jack Crowley, whose polished performance didn’t make the Irish miss retired captain Jonathan Sexton. Crowley kicked six of seven, including a couple of morale-boosters from the sideline.

Tries to scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park, lock Tadhg Beirne, new winger Calvin Nash on his tournament debut, hooker Dan Sheehan and his replacement Rónan Kelleher added up to Ireland’s highest score against France in 115 years.

France, whose two-year unbeaten run at home was ended only in October by South Africa in the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals, was ragged and off the pace. It didn’t appear inspired without absent star Antoine Dupont until after Willemse was sent off in the 32nd minute, but trailed at halftime at home for the first time in six years.

Tries by winger Damian Penaud and lock Paul Gabrillagues, in his first test since the 2019 World Cup, closed France to within seven of Ireland with 27 minutes to go.

But the Irish snuffed out the French hopes with tries from expert lineout mauls to Sheehan and Kelleher for their first win against France in France since 2018 and control of the title race with three home games still to come.

“We’re not going to get carried away here,” new Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony told broadcaster ITV. “We’ve certainly got a bit of momentum.”

Willemse was pinged twice in the first half for high tackles. The first yellow card was for a shoulder hit on prop Andrew Porter’s face. The second hit on the head of No. 8 Caelan Doris earned a second yellow and automatic red card, his second in test rugby.

Ireland was leading 17-3 after tries to scrumhalf Gibson-Park and lock Beirne from slick offloads by Bundee Aki and Crowley.

Penaud’s 36th test try on the first-half buzzer gave France hope at 17-10 down. But it took Ireland only six minutes in the new half to restore the 14-point gap when center Robbie Henshaw crashed through the defense, and Doris fed an unmarked Nash to score a try in his first Six Nations appearance.

O’Mahony praised Ireland’s young guns.

“Guys like Calvin Nash, Jack, big Joe (McCarthy), there was some big performances,” O’Mahony said. “This whole game is about taking your opportunities. Against sides who are as good as France are, they don’t come around very often.”

Gabrillagues gave France another lifeline when he crossed in the 53rd. At the same time, O’Mahony was sin-binned for dragging down the maul. But Ireland scored the bonus-point fourth try without him.

“We were comprehensively beaten,” France center Gaël Fickou said. “We were too loose in the way we played.”

Before the end of the match, as French fans were streaming out, Irish fans were feeling right at home, just was they were during the World Cup last autumn, heartily singing “The Fields of Athenry.”

Ireland hosts Italy next weekend while France travels to Scotland.

“It’s going to be tough in Scotland, we’ll have to prepare for it well,” Fickou said. “We need to ask ourselves questions. It’s a second straight defeat for us and we’re not used to it.”

No comments

Powered by Blogger.