Notoriously, this fixture fell to the frost last month. Yesterday, enough Frenchmen froze for sufficiently long periods to blow their chances of a Grand Slam.
There were times when Les Bleus played like millionaires. They had their opponents on toast at the scrum and reduced them to cinders at the line-out. When Clément Poitrenaud ran from deep, anything looked possible. When the tight forwards gathered behind Imanol Harinordoquy and drove upfield, it was difficult to see how the Irish could survive the onslaught.
Yet Philippe Saint-André's men somehow contrived to hand their opponents a 17-6 lead and after restoring equality in the third quarter, they let things slip again. The coach said the wet weather had played a part, but it was a lame excuse. So what went wrong? Saint-André avoided blaming the beleaguered President Nicolas Sarkozy, who headed to the French dressing room after the final whistle. "If anything, he was more positive about the result than me," the coach said.
Saint-André will not be quick to absolve the centre Aurélien Rougerie. His first calamity occurred in the 13th minute: looking to launch Poitrenaud down the left, he threw a pass so predictable it would have shamed a seven-year-old. Tommy Bowe barely had to change stride to intercept and stroll to the line. "Points for free," said Paul O'Connell, the Ireland captain.
Saint-André said: "We're still in the Championship – we can still win this Six Nations – but we'll have to be much cleverer and much more disciplined against our old friends," he said. "England will be fresher physically and mentally. We will need to play like a desperate team, because it is important for us to win in front of our own people."
This was always likely to be a severe test for Ireland, but when Bowe scored an impressive chip-and-gather try a couple of minutes before the break a momentous victory looked probable.
France, who had been restricted to a couple of penalties from their scrum-half, Morgan Parra, were a different bowl of bouillabaisse from the restart. Parra was successful on 46 minutes; Poitrenaud then launched an attack and the ball found its way to Wesley Fofana, who outpaced Rob Kearney to score. Cian Healy's transgression at a ruck allowed Parra to square it and the odds favoured a big French finish.
Thanks in no small part to Kearney's heroics at full-back that finish did not materialise. Lionel Beauxis, introduced late on to drop a winning goal, had two attempts, neither memorable. In stoppage time, Kearney slammed the door on Julien Malzieu.
France: Try Fofana;. Penalties Parra 4. Ireland : Tries Bowe 2; Conversions Sexton 2; Penalty: Sexton.
France: C Poitrenaud; V Clerc (both Toulouse), A Rougerie, W Fofana, J Malzieu (all Clermont Auvergne); F Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), M Parra (Clermont); J-B Poux (Toulouse), D Szarzewski (Stade Français), N Mas (Perpignan), P Papé (Stade), Y Maestri , T Dusautoir (capt; both Toulouse), J Bonnaire (Clermont ), I Harinordoquy (Biarritz). Replacements: V Debaty (Clermont) for Poux, 52; W Servat (Toulouse) for Szarzews ki, 52; L Nallet (Racing Métro) for Papé, 60; L Beauxis (Toulouse) for Poitrenaud, 67; L Picamoles (Toulouse) for Bonnaire, 70.
Ireland: R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), K Earls (Munster), G D'Arcy (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster); J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (capt; both Munster), S Ferris (Ulster), S O'Brien, J Heaslip (both Leinster). Replacements: D Ryan (Munster) for O'Callaghan, 57; E Reddan (Leinster) for Murray, 58; P O'Mahony (Munster) for O'Brien, 65; R O'Gara (Munster) for D'Arcy, 70; F McFadden (Leinster) for Trimble, 72; T Court (Ulster) for Healy, 74; S Cronin (Leinster) for Best, 74.
Referee: D Pearson (England).Reuse content