France fall to Sexton screamer

Ireland flyhalf Johnny Sexton split the uprights with a last-gasp, long-range drop goal to clinch a 15-13 victory against France in Paris on Saturday night.

Les Bleus’ Six Nations opener doubled as their first Test under Jacques Brunel and, as predicted, they made a full effort of trying to impress their new coach, recovering from a first-half deficit with a late Teddy Thomas try putting the hosts into a one-point lead with the time remaining measured in seconds. And that’s when Sexton slotted a dramatic drop goal from a range of almost 45 metres to give Ireland the win.

Conditions had made life difficult for both teams, with Ireland turning to their tight game to squeeze the life out of their opponents and make the most of French indiscipline to control the scoreboard.

But when Thomas received a ball from Antoine Dupont, he put on the afterburners to sprint through from 60 metres out with Anthony Belleau converting to give France the lead for the first time.

Belleau then missed a shot at goal which could have given France a four-point lead, and that proved costly as Sexton broke French hearts at the death.

Brunel had handed a debut to teenage flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert but he was forced off in the first half after injuring his knee while trying to tackle Bundee Aki.

Yet, for an inexperienced French team, they were very much in touch in the first half only for the Irish to take advantage of their indiscipline as they had done a year ago in Dublin.

Ireland made the perfect start with France straying offside in the second minute of the game and allowing Sexton to slot a simple penalty.

Les Bleus were patient when they got their hands on the ball, but found it difficult to break down the Irish defence.

Instead it was a second Sexton penalty, this time after another offside, that allowed the Irish to stretch the lead to 6-0.

France then lost Jalibert when he got into an awkward angle trying to tackle Aki, with Belleau taking his place.

The French came back, and good work from Maxime Machenaud and Guilhem Guirado at a breakdown earned the French three points from the scrum-half.

However right on the stroke of half-time Sébastien Vahaamahina took Conor Murray out at a ruck which set up an easy three points for Sexton for a 9-3 half-time lead at the break.

As the rain started to come down in the second half, Ireland continued to press, Rémi Lamerat this time the man caught on the wrong side of the ruck.

Still, France were not done, and when they were able to break the Irish shackles, they forced the visitors back, earned a penalty, and Machenaud slotted it from the right to cut the deficit to six points.

Guirado was very effective in defence, racking up the tackles, but after one such tackle he fell on the wrong side but Sexton dragged his effort wide.

That miss looked all the more crucial when France took a quick lineout, put Thomas through a gap and he did the rest.

Belleau converted, but was off-target with a penalty three minutes from time after a dominant French scrum. And that proved to be the difference in the end, with Sexton splitting the uprights.

Try: Thomas
Con: Belleau
Pens: Machenaud 2

Pens: Sexton 4
Drop-goal: Sexton

France: 15 Geoffrey Palis, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Rémi Lamerat, 12 Henry Chavancy, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Kevin Gourdon, 7 Yacouba Camara, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Arthur Iturria, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Jefferson Poirot
Replacements: 16 Adrien Pelissié, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Cedate Gomes Sa, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Marco Tauleigne, 21 Antoine Dupont, 22 Anthony Belleau, 23 Benjamin Fall

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 John Ryan, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Dan Leavy, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Fergus McFadden

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Paul Williams (New Zealand)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

- All Out Rugby Staff Writer