Heaslip the only Irish bright spot as France turn on the power

France 33 Ireland 10

It's question time. Are France that good? Are Ireland that far behind? Or was this just one of those Paris days? The answers will become clearer over time but Ireland's 23-point hammering here was most definitely not part of the grand plan.

The truth is, Ireland ran out in Paris with a genuine shot at victory and to see such aspirations blown asunder so emphatically is deeply unsettling.

Ireland's progression towards next year's World Cup was on schedule heading into this match. The squad was deepening nicely, the gameplan was gradually expanding while critical areas such as set-pieces and defence were solidifying into bulwarks of dependability. The mixture was bound together by an unbeaten run.

And then... poof!... it was gone.

France looked to be operating on a different plane, particularly in the physical power stakes with Keith Earls and replacement Paddy Wallace being toyed with. Jerry Flannery, Gordon D'Arcy and Leo Cullen produced decent displays and Brian O'Driscoll had a couple of quality moments, but only Jamie Heaslip was able to consistently make inroads.

The defensive line, so impressive since Les Kiss took over, was breached on umpteen occasions, the scrum battled gamely but was under enormous pressure and the home back-row bossed the breakdown.

Only Ireland's line-out was beyond reproof, snaffling four of France's throws and winning all 11 of their own.

And yet, a look at the statistics afterwards you would have been forgiven for thinking that the compilers had got their figures mixed up. Ireland won 88 balls in open play to France's 52, won 30 balls in the opponents' 22 compared to France's 11 and only made 67 tackles compared to the home team's 111.

Baffling, until you look at the error count which was against Ireland to the tune of two to one. It is hard to remember the last time Ireland made so many handling errors.

But they had early chances. The giant one came as a result of D'Arcy's electric break up the middle which would have led to a try beneath the French posts had his chip ahead bounced fortuitously. Instead, the French roared back through Imanol Harinordoquy and a minute later Cian Healy was being sent to the sin-bin for an illegal tug on Morgan Parra.

The scrum-half knocked over the penalty and then converted William Servat's try as France put the squeeze on in the scrum with Ireland still down to 14. Ronan O'Gara got Ireland off the mark with a penalty only for France's Yannick Jauzion to go over for another converted try and a 17-3 lead.

The second period was never going to bring a reversal of fortunes, Mathieu Bastareaud's brilliance allowed Clément Poitrenaud to cross for France's third try, converted by Parra who added a penalty and drop goal before Frédéric Michalak applied the coup de grace with his drop goal on the final whistle. Ireland did manage a try through David Wallace, after excellent work from O'Driscoll.

France: Tries Servat, Jauzion, Poitrenaud; Conversions Parra 3; Penalties Parra 2; Drop goals Parra, Michalak. Ireland: Try D Wallace; Conversion O'Gara; Penalty O'Gara.

France: C Poitrenaud; V Clerc (D Marty, 49), M Bastareaud, Y Jauzion (F Michalak, 70), A Palisson (J Malzieu, 26); F Trinh-Duc, M Parra; T Domingo, W Servat (D Szarzewski, 51), N Mas (S Marconnet, 51; Mas, 78), L Nallet, P Pape, T Dusautoir (capt), F Ouedraogo, I Harinordoquy (J Bonnaire, 64).

Ireland: R Kearney (P Wallace, 38); T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (capt, P Wallace 20-22), G D'Arcy, K Earls; R O'Gara (J Sexton, 73; T O'Leary (E Reddan, 73); C Healy, J Flannery (R Best, 63), J Hayes (T Court, 51), L Cullen (D Ryan, 63), P O'Connell, S Ferris (T Court, 20-30), D Wallace, J Heaslip.

Referee: W Barnes (England).

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