France 43 Ireland 31: France survive the maddest day

Laporte's enigmas open up 40-point gap and then switch off as Ireland rampage back
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A fairly predictable result contrived in an absolutely madcap manner. France forced a series of calamitous mistakes out of Ireland and built a 40-point lead which appeared to sweep away the cobwebs of their opening Championship defeat in Scotland. Then the other France turned up: the lackadaisical France; the one which gives their rivals hope for next year's World Cup here. And Ireland, commendably or fortunately depending on your point of view, made quite a game of it.

There were five minutes remaining when Ireland's captain, Brian O'Driscoll, was helped from the field, almost exhausted and hobbling with a tightened hamstring. The unbelievable state of affairs as he departed was that his team were in with a credible shout of victory, having run in four tries in a dozen minutes to slash into a scoreline of 43-3 to France early in the second half. It was not fanciful to believe that if Ronan O'Gara and Andrew Trimble could have wriggled through in separate late surges, we might have witnessed the greatest comeback in the Championship's long history.

So what to make of France's initial dominance? The home scrum was magnificent, but undoubtedly Ireland were culpable for each of the four tries they conceded in the first half. And when Cédric Heymans and David Marty cantered over for their personal second scores after 44 and 47 minutes - Marty again profiting from an Irish mistake when he snaffled a Ronan O'Gara chip - the record books were being thumbed.

Ultimately, the Irish staved off a worst defeat on French soil and their coach, Eddie O'Sullivan, viewed his glass half-full. "It's hard to see where France played any rugby," said O'Sullivan. "We made enough errors for a whole season and gifted them the best part of 40 points." Ireland had won in Paris once in 34 years; and were fitful in their defeat of Italy in Dublin the previous week. But there was no good reason for the Irish backs to fall into a blind panic so early, albeit in the face of fierce and focused French tackling. In the third minute Tommy Bowe flew up in defence and the gap was exploited with precision by Christophe Dominici, who fed a scoring pass to Aurélien Rougerie.

Before the opening quarter was out, Ireland were 19 points adrift. They were caught napping at a 22 drop-out when Heymans hoofed upfield and Denis Leamy and Geordan Murphy collided. Freddy Michalak - showing no sign of the dodgy groin which hampered him at Murrayfield - picked up the pieces and Olivier Magne dotted down. The latter, recalled after an injury-hampered first season in the English Premiership, might have thanked the luck of his club, London Irish.

O'Gara failed with a 45-metre penalty, then reloaded an Irish shotgun aimed squarely at their size 13s. The fly-half was charged down by Marty and the bounce was kind for the centre. Jean-Baptiste Elissalde kicked two conversions. Ireland butchered two invaluable chances when Peter Stringer went it alone. Instead, an O'Gara penalty after 29 minutes was immediately rubbed out by Elissalde.

Ireland could not buy a decent pass. Their creative muses, Murphy and O'Driscoll, presented a try to Heymans.

O'Sullivan urged his side at half-time simply to hold on to the ball. At first, it just got worse. Elissalde put Heymans in and Marty did his stuff again. Then, crazily, what France had done to Ireland the Irish did to their hosts between the 59th and 70th minutes. Tellingly, it came just after three French substitutions.

O'Gara finished off Leamy's tapped penalty, then Gordon D'Arcy, suddenly looking world-class having earlier played like a drain, went over, followed by a barging effort from Donncha O'Callaghan. The next Irish break should have brought another, but O'Driscoll overdid it with a behind-the-back pass to Murphy. Still they came, and Stringer's switch to the short side of a ruck allowed O'Driscoll - brilliantly, thrillingly - to cut past three Frenchmen and send Trimble in. O'Gara kicked four conversions. Only last-ditch defence prevented further damage.

Asked if he could find more positives than negatives from it all, O'Sullivan's French counterpart, Bernard Laporte, replied: "Who won the game? That's the first positive point." But he and all present knew that it was merely the start of the debate.

France: C Dominici (Stade Français); A Rougerie (Clermont Auvergne), F Fritz (Toulouse), D Marty (Perpignan), C Heymans (Toulouse); F Michalak (Toulouse), J-B Elissalde (Toulouse); O Milloud (Bourgoin), R Ibañez (Wasps), P de Villiers (Stade Français), F Pelous (Toulouse, capt), J Thion (Biarritz), Y Nyanga (Toulouse), J Bonnaire (Bourgoin), O Magne (London Irish). Replacements: S Bruno (Sale) for Ibañez, 46; S Marconnet (Stade Français) for Milloud, 57; L Nallet (Castres) for Nyanga, 70; R Martin (Stade Français) for Magne, 39-40 & 57; D Yachvili (Biarritz) for Elissalde, 57; B Boyet (Bourgoin) for Michalak, 68.

Ireland: G Murphy (Leicester); S Horgan (Leinster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), G D'Arcy (Leinster), T Bowe (Ulster); R O'Gara (Munster), P Stringer (Munster); R Corrigan (Leinster), J Flannery (Munster), J Hayes (Munster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Easterby (Llanelli Scarlets), D Leamy (Munster), D Wallace (Munster). Replacements: S Best (Ulster) for Corrigan, 50; D O'Callaghan (Munster) for O'Kelly, 50; E Reddan (Wasps) for O'Driscoll, 75; A Trimble (Ulster) for Bowe, 61.

Referee: P Honiss (New Zealand).

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