Ireland denied precious win by French fightback
France 17 Ireland 17
Sunday 04 March 2012
Ireland were denied a precious victory in Paris when France staged a second-half fightback that concluded in a tense RBS 6 Nations stalemate.
At half-time that elusive first Irish triumph in the French capital since 2000, and only a second in four decades, appeared within grasp.
Two tries from Tommy Bowe, who has now crossed 24 times in 47 games including five times in this Six Nations, offered sight of a rare prize.
The brilliant Bowe snatched an intercept score from Aurelien Rougerie's loose pass before later completing a fine solo effort.
And with Jonathan Sexton kicking a penalty and two conversions Ireland established a 17-6 interval lead, but they were unable to score again.
Instead it was France who threatened, centre Wesley Fofana pouncing on a loose ball to touch down in the 51st minute and the boot of scrum-half Morgan Parra doing the rest.
The outcome ends the prospect of a Grand Slam decider between Wales and France on March 17, while Ireland's title aspirations are now effectively over.
France were as poor in the first half as Ireland were magnificent, but a more aggressive Les Bleus emerged after the break, displaying greater urgency.
The rivals were originally scheduled to meet three weeks ago only for a frozen pitch to force referee Dave Pearson to postpone the contest 10 minutes before kick off.
And while the rearranged match was no classic, there was enough tension at the Stade de France to make it uncomfortable viewing for supporters.
Only a handful of Irish fans had managed to travel to Paris for a second time in three weeks, though the ground was full.
France, unbeaten until today, recalled full-back Clement Poitrenaud and flanker Julien Bonnaire following their narrow defeat over Scotland and the former was influential early on.
He showed nimble feet to break from his own 22 before play was held up as winger Vincent Clerc recovered from a fierce tackle by Cian Healy.
France were showing some dangerous touches in attack, but their attempts at offloading were repeatedly foiled by Ireland wrapping them up in the tackle.
Recent Irish attempts at storming the Stade de France have been undermined by a disastrous start, but today it was Les Bleus' turn to implode in the opening quarter.
A ponderous attack from just outside the French 22 reached centre Rougerie, whose lazy floated pass intended for winger Julien Malzieu instead found the lurking Bowe.
The Ospreys winger made light work of the gallop home and when Sexton converted from beneath the posts, Ireland were 7-0 ahead.
Morgan Parra and Sexton exchanged penalties before Bowe almost escaped with another intercept try, though this time the ball slipped from his fingertips.
Ireland's scrum was now in full retreat, allowing Parra to land a monster three points that reduced the deficit to four points.
Prop Cian Healy was lucky to escape a yellow card as he blocked Clerc from an outrageously offside position as France sought to escape down the right.
Les Bleus' sense of injustice intensified when Parra missed the penalty and then they slipped further behind as Bowe struck once again.
Swift hands and a mix-up in defence allowed him to break free and although it seemed as though he had blown a chance by failing to release Rob Kearney, his chip ahead bounced kindly and he dummied Poitrenaud to stroll over with Sexton converting.
The second half was ushered in by rain and it took Parra six minutes to land his third penalty, but Ireland were soon back on the front foot.
Winger Andrew Trimble had the ball knocked from his hand as he switched with Jamie Heaslip and a fine opportunity vanished.
Irish hearts sank when France touched down in the 50th minute, initially profiting from good fortune during a loose passage of play.
The ball bounced into the arms of Fofana and the centre accelerated clear, out-running Kearney to dive over in the left corner.
The momentum had clearly shifted, a fact underlined when Parra rifled over a long-range penalty to level the score.
Moments later scrum-half Conor Murray was replaced by Eoin Reddan after being stretchered off because of an injury to his right knee.
Ireland then spent a sustained spell in the opposition half but failed to trouble the scoreboard, while Lionel Beauxis sent an ugly drop goal under the crossbar and then saw a second charged down.
France, camped in an ominous position, conceded a penalty with two minutes to go but then had one last throw of the dice only for Kearney to bundle Malzieu into touch.
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