Woes mount for Irish
An eighth-minute try from prop Cian Healy – who later had to be helped from the pitch – and five points from the boot of Jonathan Sexton saw them race ahead in a dominant first quarter.
But France scored 26 unanswered points through tries from Cedric Heymans and Francois Trinh-Duc, who also landed a monster drop-goal from near the halfway line, and the flawless kicking of Morgan Parra.
When Sexton and Sean O’Brien dived over for late tries, Les Bleus were beyond reach as they claimed an 11th victory against Ireland in 12 meetings dating back to 2003.
Hoping to build some momentum to carry into the World Cup, the Irish now face the very real prospect of departing for New Zealand with a quartet of Test defeats eating at their self-confidence. An England side hell-bent on avenging the demise of their Grand Slam dream in Dublin in March completes the gruelling schedule arranged by coach Declan Kidney next Saturday.
Rampaging blindside O’Brien was superb once more, but the team has become over-reliant on his ball-carrying and there were few other players making inroads. Penetration was also lacking in the backs, particularly in the midfield, where the policy of flinging the ball wide as early as possible proved largely unsuccessful.
Centres Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy, both back from injury lay-offs, came through unscathed and there were welcome final-quarter appearances from Stephen Ferris and Jerry Flannery. There were few other positives, though one source of comfort was Ireland destroying Les Bleus in the scrum.
However, even this encouraging development was tempered by the departure of Healy and Kidney will be praying for a positive fitness update on his loosehead.
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Healy, Sexton, O’Brien. Cons: O’Gara 2. Pen: Sexton. France: Tries: Heymans, Trinh-Duc. Cons: Parra 2. Pens: Parra 3. Drop goal Trinh-Duc.
Ireland: Jones, Trimble, B. O’Driscoll, D’Arcy, Earls, Sexton, O’Leary, Healy, Best, Ross, O’Callaghan, O’Connell, O’Brien, Jennings, Heaslip. Subs: Flannery, Court, McCarthy, Ferris, Reddan, O’Gara, Fitzgerald.
France: Heymans, Medard, Rougerie, Estebanez, Palisson, Skrela, Parra, Poux, Szarzewski, Mas, Pape, Nallet, Ouedraogo, Picamoles, Bonnaire. Subs: Guirado, Barcella, Pierre, Lakafia, Yachvili, Trinh-Duc, Clerc.
Referee: C Joubert (South Africa).