Ireland robbed of victory by late French try
Vincent Clerc broke Irish hearts with a last-gasp try that kept France on
course to gain a 20 -17 vicotory and silence Croke Park.
The Toulouse wing produced a devastating finish after it looked as though
Ronan O'Gara had done enough to steer Ireland to a stirring win.
Substitute Lionel Beauxis added the conversion, destroying Irish Grand Slam
hopes when they desperately wanted to christen their temporary Dublin home with
a first victory over France since 2003.
Ireland wiped out a 10-point deficit, but they face a huge psychological task
in recovering in time for England's February 24 visit.
Munster star O'Gara scored a sparkling try and slotted four penalties during a
rip-roaring contest when Ireland recovered brilliantly from an error-strewn
France, though, dug deep when it really mattered, ultimately stunning Ireland
after captain Raphael Ibanez touched down for the visitors to reward initial
dominance, while fly-half David Skrela slotted two penalties and a conversion.
Ireland looked to have overcome the absence of injured skipper Brian
O'Driscoll and scrum-half Peter Stringer, but they had to regroup after making a
Ireland conceded 13 points in the first 14 minutes as their scrum and lineout
malfunctioned, with France forging clear through hooker Ibanez's well-worked try
after Skrela slotted two early penalties.
O'Driscoll was badly missed during the early stages - Ireland appeared
flustered and indecisive in his absence - and it was not until eight minutes
before half-time that an 81,000 crowd had something to celebrate.
O'Gara wrong-footed the French defence when he feigned a drop-goal attempt,
and slick passing by Denis Hickie and Shane Horgan worked space out wide, where
flanker David Wallace's exquisite offload freed O'Gara in the corner.
Having seen their advantage slashed to 13-11, France should still have enjoyed
a healthy interval advantage, but Ireland wing Geordan Murphy's defensive
intercept thwarted a three-man overlap and Skrela missed two injury-time penalty
O'Gara edged Ireland ahead for the first time on 56 minutes, and both sides
defied fatigue to maintain a thrilling tempo.
France were denied when substitute Lionel Beauxis' 74th-minute drop-goal hit
the post before O'Gara nailed a long-range clincher three minutes later and
Clerc administered a world-class finish.