France hold off Ireland 30-24 to stay on track for 6N title

PARIS (AP) — France held off a comeback from Ireland to win a classic between Six Nations favorites 30-24 on Saturday and remain firmly on course for a first title since 2010.

Ireland were on a nine-game winning streak since losing to France in the tournament last year, but came to the Stade de France without injured captain Jonathan Sexton in the line-up.

They looked dazed when Les Tricolores led 22-7 minutes into the second half, courtesy of a brilliant early try from scrum-half Antoine Dupont and a clean kick from full-back Melvyn Jaminet.

But within minutes and a blur of green, it was suddenly a one-point game as Ireland scored clinical tries through flanker Josh Van der Flier and scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park.

The French formed a small group, the packed crowd followed them and mobile prop Cyril Baille stemmed the green tide with a fine try as the home side showed their ingenuity and fighting spirit.

France united as Ireland battled to close the six-point gap in the last 20 minutes.

Ireland picked up a penalty from skilled Sexton substitute Joey Carbery to trail just 27-24 with seven minutes left, and the French fans burst into the national anthem.

They roared in the 77th when Jaminet sprinted into the left corner after brilliant work from replacement lock Thibaud Flament. But the try was not given because Jaminet was unable to put the ball on the ground in Dan Sheehan’s wrap-around tackle, and Jaminet instead netted his sixth penalty.

Moments later, fly-half Romain Ntamack fired the ball into the biggest roar of the evening, the victory leaving France as the only team unbeaten in two rounds.

“We knew we had to raise our game. That’s what we talked about all week and we were confident,” said Dupont. “The greatest satisfaction is that we all rose to the challenge.”

Arguably the best halves in world rugby, which refined their partnership at Toulouse, Dupont and Ntamack took just over 60 seconds to unlock the famous Irish defence.

After Dupont’s quick throw-in and Uini Atonio’s play-off run, a circled Ntamack launched a one-handed offload without looking inside Dupont to sprint after 67 seconds. It is the fastest try Ireland have conceded in their Six Nations era.

Jaminet converted and added a seventh-minute penalty for 10-0 and the excitement mounted as the crowd watched a classic unfold.

“It was tough. We were up against a tough opponent. We gave everything for this victory,” said French coach Fabien Galthie. “Now we have to recover and prepare for our away matches.”

France can dream of a first Grand Slam since 2010 but must win in Scotland and Wales before hosting England in the last round on March 19.

Errors should be removed.

The old erratic streak returned when Irish left winger Mack Hansen received his first international try with Ireland 10-0.

As soon as Carbery restarted, Jaminet and right winger Damian Penaud looked at each other but did not speak, so Hansen stole the ball from the kickoff to clear. Making his first Six Nations start, Carbery converted.

Under pressure from France’s line speed, Ireland awarded a third penalty in 16 minutes – having given almost nothing when dispatching Wales 29-7 a week ago – and Jaminet restored France’s six-point lead.

Jaminet’s reputation as a kicker is high having landed all of his spot kicks when New Zealand were beaten last November. And he made it five from five in the first half with two clearer penalties as France got the better of the Irish scrum, with Ronan Kelleher injured and then punished with offside moments after the break.

Opportunistic Ireland turned the game around, however, with chilling efficiency.

From an alignment maul, the Irish bulldozed France and Van der Flier broke away. The attackers then chained ruck after ruck and scattered the French to give Gibson-Park a free run on a ruck to the try line.

But it’s not all about Dupont and Ntamack in this exciting side.

Atonio penetrated the Irish, Dupont recycled to the pressed Baille and he reached out in a tackle to score and redirect the momentum to France.

“We expected a fight and we got one,” Penaud said. “But we came to our senses.”

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