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Solid Ireland crush 14-man France in Six Nations opener

Gibson Park of Ireland in action during the Six Nations 2024 match against France at Orange Velodrome on February 2, 2024 in Marseille, France.
Gibson Park of Ireland in action during the Six Nations 2024 match against France at Orange Velodrome on February 2, 2024 in Marseille, France.
Image: Christian Liewig - Corbis/Getty Images

Holders Ireland got off to a perfect start in the Six Nations as they punished a woeful France 38-17, running in five tries at the Velodrome after Les Bleus were reduced to 14 men in the first half on Friday.

Ireland already held a commanding lead when lock Paul Willemse, back with France after missing the Rugby World Cup with injury, was sent off after his second high hit of the night around the half-hour mark.

They prevailed with tries by Jamison Gibson-Park, Tadhg Beirne, Calvin Nash, Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher, and points from the boot of Jack Crowley.

France scored tries through Damian Penaud and Paul Gabrillagues, while Thomas Ramos kicked seven points in a worrying defensive display by Fabien Galthie's side.

In a Test between two sides whose high World Cup hopes were crushed in cruel fashion in the quarterfinals last October, Ireland showed they clearly have recovered better.

France were without mercurial scrumhalf Antoine Dupont, who switched to Rugby Sevens for the Paris Olympics, but his absence could not justify their mediocre performance.

“First and foremost, it's won up front and our line-out, in particular, was world-class today. It wasn't just the attacking line-out, it was the defensive line-out,” said Ireland coach Andy Farrell.

“It's a good start. We have Italy next and getting off to a good start was always going to be a tough ask here. We've done that now so we need to grow off the back of it.”

France coach Fabien Galthie said it was “tough for the players” and that the squad needed to “protect themselves”.

“We wasted a lot, we lacked speed,” he said.

“We had prepared to put a lot of intensity into the game. We need to do better, offensively and defensively.”

It was Ireland's highest score against France and their biggest win on French soil.

“We're very happy. It's never easy to win away in France. We didn't probably expect to get such a high score but we're really happy. The atmosphere was absolutely mental, so everyone dug in and it was a fantastic team performance,” said man of the match Joe McCarthy.

Crowley, taking over from the retired Johnny Sexton, slotted the first penalty early on as Ireland claimed the upper hand with Willemse being sin-binned for a shoulder on prop Andrew Porter.

Ireland made the most of the opportunity as Bundee Aki bulldozed through the defence to set up Gibson-Park for the first try.

A second came when Beirne ghosted Jonathan Danty to touch down between the posts.

Willemse was then sent off after another high hit, on Caelan Doris this time, as the night went from bad to worse for the hosts.

The unpredictable French pulled a try back through Penaud, who dived over for the 36th time with Les Bleus, moving two shy of France's all-time record of Serge Blanco.

Ireland were ruthless early in the second half as Nash touched down in the left corner after some heavy work by the Irish forwards.

A pivotal moment came in the 53rd minute when Gabrillagues was awarded a try after a lengthy TMO review and Peter O'Mahony was handed a yellow card for a high hit.

Ireland were unfazed, however, as Sheehan added a fourth for the visitors and Crowley converted to restore a 14-point lead.

France wasted an opportunity to halve the deficit, and Ireland went on to secure a no-nonsense victory with Kelleher rubbing salt on Les Bleus' wounds with a late try.

“They were more efficient than us, we were down to 14 men, it was tough. It's hard to analyse right now but the championship is long,” said France captain Gregory Alldritt.

Italy host England and Wales take on Scotland on Saturday.


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