Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Ireland lose thriller in Dublin

Jamie Heaslip

Ireland slumped to a 25-22 defeat by France on their RBS 6 Nations debut at Aviva Stadium after failing with an heroic late fightback.

Tries from winger Fergus McFadden and scrum-half Tomas O'Leary helped them to a 15-12 half-time lead and the Grand Slam champions looked ripe for the taking.

However, Maxime Medard crossed to help Les Bleus back into the driving seat before Jamie Heaslip crashed over in the right corner to set up a grandstand finish.

Luke Fitzgerald had an early try ruled out for a forward pass but moments later Clement Poitrenaud dropped the ball as France launched a kamikaze attack from their own 22. McFadden, playing his second Test, pounced on the loose ball and then reappeared a few phases later to burrow over from close range. Jonathan Sexton converted.

It was the champions' turn to attack and Ireland defended until straying offside and Morgan Parra landed the penalty.

An almighty cheer sounded in the 16th minute when France's scrum, fresh from pulverising Scotland last week, collapsed. It was a moral victory for the much-maligned Irish front row and Sexton kicked the ensuing penalty to rub salt into the wound, but Parra kicked the next three to put the French ahead.

Ireland struck next, the rejuvenated O'Leary charging through France's defence to start the move before later finishing it by breaking a tackle and forcing the ball over the whitewash but a fifth Parra penalty levelled the score.

In the 55th Aurelien Rougerie ran straight at Gordon D'Arcy, sent the Leinster centre cannoning backwards, and dashed forward before drawing Fitzgerald and supplying Medard with the scoring pass. Substitute scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili landed the conversion and at 22-15 ahead, France were in a strong position.

Yachvili slotted a penalty but Ireland refused to give up hope and were rewarded with a 68th minute try from Heaslip. It took 26 phases close to the whitewash before France cracked, a poorly executed kick from substitute Ronan O'Gara falling into the arms of David Wallace who sent Heaslip in at the corner. O'Gara's conversion struck the left post on its way over, setting up a nerve-shredding climax.

Heart rates soared with two minutes to go when Keith Earls chipped ahead and Ireland hunted in numbers, but France's scrambling defence was superb. Last-ditch tackles held firm and when substitute hooker Sean Cronin knocked on, Les Bleus were able to breath a sigh of relief.

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