DUBLIN: Ireland ended France’s 14-match winning run with a 32-19 bonus-point victory over their biggest rivals for the Six Nations title in a breathless game between the world’s top two teams that lived up to its billing on Saturday.
A gripping first half featuring four tries — three of them to Ireland, including an amazing one-handed finish from James Lowe — gave way to an attritional second half that saw France hang on grimly until center Garry Ringrose went over for the match-clinching 73rd-minute try.
France, the defending champions, lost for the first time since November 2021 against a team they had beaten in their last three meetings.
The top-ranked Irish are now firm favorites for a first Six Nations title since 2019, having opened the tournament by collecting five points from hammering Wales 34-10.
“It was a huge game, two great teams going at each other,” Ireland coach Andy Farrell said. “The fighting spirit was great but we also played some great stuff.
“We could have come away with a few more points but we won’t be greedy because we got the bonus point.”
Both teams scored stunning tries, with Damian Penaud getting France’s with an effort that began with the winger bursting out of his own 22, exchanging passes with flanker Anthony Jelonch, and then holding off two would-be tacklers to sprint over the line.
Lowe’s was different — and might have been better. Short of room in the left corner, the winger took off in the air under a challenge from Penaud and managed to ground the ball one-handed near the flag with his body virtually horizontal over the touchline. Footage appeared to show one of his feet scraping the grass while out of touch but the try was given.
Lock Tadhg Beirne and flyhalf Jonathan Sexton went off injured in the second half for Ireland, which has a two-week break before its third match, away to Italy.
France, who won in Italy in Round 1, host Scotland next with their ambitions of back-to-back Grand Slams having been extinguished at Lansdowne Road, where more than 60,000 spectators witnessed a game of five-star quality and intensity, especially in an end-to-end first half that felt like a basketball game at times.
“It is almost two years since we have lost, it is hard to take,” France coach Fabien Galthie said. “The series of wins are there, now it is necessary to learn how to take a defeat.
“Defeat is not really a friend, but we will have to spend the day with her.”
The Irish played like they had a point to prove, with France the only major nation they hadn’t beaten since Farrell took over as coach after the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Either side of Lowe’s try were scores by fullback Hugo Keenan — off a clever move from a ruck where prop Finlay Bealham was first receiver and deceived the French with an inside pass to Keenan — and prop Andrew Porter, who barged over in the 27th after a number of phases near the line.
Porter’s try came while France were playing with 14 men after Uini Atonio was yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle on Rob Herring, whose face was struck by the shoulder of the French prop as he came crashing in for the tackle.
France didn’t concede any more points without Atonio but that was only because of some impressive last-ditch defending, notably from Antoine Dupont, who managed to hold Mack Hansen away from the tryline despite being off-balance. Ireland scrumhalf Conor Murray was held up over the line by prop Cyril Baille and later dropped the ball as he attempted to ground it under pressure.
Indeed, Thomas Ramos booted over a penalty to trim France’s deficit to 19-16 before Atonio returned only for Sexton to kick his own with the last action of the half to re-establish Ireland’s six-point lead.
And that was the cushion Ireland had heading into the final 10 minutes, after Ramos’ 62nd-minute dropped goal, before Ringrose shrugged off a French tackler in a rampaging run down the left flank and trundled over to kill off the hopes of France and its 6,000 traveling supporters.
“We won a Triple Crown last year and we want to go better this year,” Sexton said. “That’s what we speak about, keeping the trajectory like this as opposed to in 2019 when we dipped.
“To get better is to win the championship or a Grand Slam. How you do that is concentrate on the next two weeks and try and beat Italy away.”