One quite brilliant try lit up the Paris night and kept France safely in their own World Cup, at least for another week and probably on into the knockout rounds. Bernard Laporte has never been a conspicuous fan of the Toulouse club and their ways, but the France coach was up on his feet to acclaim the artful dab by Freddy Michalak which made the climactic score for his fellow Toulousain, Vincent Clerc.
The try put France 20-3 up after 58 minutes, and effectively ended Ireland's gutsy but one-dimensional resistance, though Clerc made absolutely sure with a second try 10 minutes later. So instead of the hosts exiting a nightmarish four weeks' before the final, they can dream again of the last eight and maybe even winning Pool D to avoid the hurdle of New Zealand in the quarter-final. The final pool matches are next Sunday – France v Georgia in Marseilles followed by Ireland against Argentina (who play Namibia today) at Parc des Princes. Give or take a bonus point here and there and assuming no Georgian upset, Ireland will almost certainly need to beat the Pumas – and beat them well – to survive.
Ireland's coach, Eddie O'Sullivan, had no will to go into the qualification maths last night, instead concentrating on a figure which had done his team down. "Our penalty count up to half-time was eight, which is normally what we'd get for 80 minutes," O'Sullivan said. "With that lack of discipline and our line-out not firing right we dug ourselves a hole and fell into it."
How ironic it was that Michalak's subtle use of the outside of his right boot, followed by a cross-kick from Jean-Baptiste Elissalde which sent Clerc in again, should settle this anxious match. For much of the evening the boot dominated to the detriment of the spectacle. Each side took it in turns to hoof the ball unprofitably into each other's territory even though Ronan O'Gara showed the paucity of the tactic when he overcooked one and, from a lineout drive and a tapped penalty, Elissalde kicked France into a seventh-minute lead.
Elissalde would kick three more penalties before half-time, while Ireland managed only a 35-metre dropped goal by Ronan O'Gara. To the chagrin of Ireland's thousands of followers, the French had more going for them. It needed a lung-bursting cover tackle by Simon Easterby to rein in Serge Betsen, and both Sébastien Chabal, the bearded wonder usually better known as a bull than a salmon, and Thierry Dusautoir soared to nick Irish line-out throws.
Although France's nerve failed them a couple of times close to the Irish goalline, the Irish were only marginally happier than in the stumbling defeats of Namibia and Georgia. The wonderful Easterby ran and tackled himself silly, but caught Michalak late, France went upfield and Elissalde made it 15-3.
By then Chabal, his huff and puff spent in the unfamiliar surroundings of the second row, had already been replaced, but France were unyielding. Ireland gifted them a scrum, and Michalak's short-side combination with the onrushing Clerc sent the French fans into ecstasy. Paul O'Connell, wounded at the line-out and generally wound up in all the wrong directions, went to the sinbin in the 63rd minute, Clerc scored again, quite amazingly given the number of defenders, and France with much relief celebrated their sixth straight victory over the Irish.
France: Tries Clerc 2; Penalties Elissalde 5. Ireland: Drop goal O'Gara.
France: C Poitrenaud (Toulouse); V Clerc (Toulouse), D Marty (Perpignan), D Traille (Biarritz), C Heymans (Toulouse); F Michalak (Toulouse), J-B Elissalde (Toulouse); O Milloud (Bourgoin), R Ibanez (Wasps, capt), P de Villiers (Stade Français), S Chabal (Sale), J Thion (Biarritz),
S Betsen (Biarritz, T Dusautoir (Toulouse), J Bonnaire (Bourgoin). Replacements: L Nallet (Castres) for Chabal, 45; D Szarzewski (Stade Français) for Ibanez, 56; Y Nyanga (Toulouse) for Betsen, 62; L Beauxis (Stade Français) for Elissalde, 73; Y Jauzion (Toulouse) for Marty, 73; Rougerie (Clermont-Auvergne for Poitrenaud, 71.
Ireland: G Dempsey (Leinster); S Horgan (Leinster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), G D'Arcy (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster); R O'Gara (Munster), E Reddan (Wasps); M Horan (Munster), J Flannery (Munster), J Hayes (Munster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Easterby (Llanelli Scarlets), D Wallace (Munster), D Leamy (Munster). Replacements: F Sheahan (Munster) for Flannery, 50-54; S Best (Ulster) for Hayes, 73; M O'Kelly (Leinster) for O'Callaghan, 71; N Best (Ulster) for Easterby, 71.
Referee: C White (England).Reuse content