France 19 Ireland 12
Ireland’s preparations for the World Cup were marred by a second successive defeat, but they could take comfort from a spirited display at the Stade Chaban-Delmas.
Memories of four years ago, when the Irish were based in Bordeaux for a pool from which they failed to emerge, came flooding back as the French dominated the first half.
Vincent Clerc emerged as chief tormentor yet again after crossing for his ninth try in nine games against Ireland, while Dimitri Yachvili kicked eight points.
Leading 13-0 and playing like World Cup contenders, France then failed to impress for the second half.
Ireland, strengthened by the arrival of Paul O’Connell and Jamie Heaslip from the bench, sensed the change with Ronan O’Gara leading the fightback.
O’Gara’s tactical kicking was superb and he landed three penalties in quick succession to blow a game now littered with substitutions wide open.
But France clung on with Yachvili on target once more, leaving coach Marc Lievremont to puzzle over how his side can lurch from looking like world beaters to a rabble so quickly.
It was hard to believe Les Bleus were making their first appearance of the summer as they made a ferocious start.
Faster, stronger and more inventive, they left a strong Ireland team containing seven first choice players for dead in the opening exchanges, using a mixture of power and guile to ease into the opposition 22.
Yachvili rifled over a penalty and shortly after Les Bleus showed their mettle when Sean O’Brien and Rory Best were smashed backwards.
The hit on Best resulted in a turnover and France reacted in a flash, counter-attacking through Maxime Mermoz’s chip ahead only for Rob Kearney to catch Clerc just five metres out.
It was fingers in the dam stuff for Ireland as Andrew Trimble executed a try-saving tackle on Francois Trinh Duc and it was only a matter of time before their line cracked and the try came in the 18th minute.
Scrambling frantically in defence, they failed to prevent winger Alexis Palisson brilliantly slipping the ball out of the tackle to Clerc – who raced over with Yachvili converting.
O’Brien, Ireland’s most destructive ball carrier during the RBS 6 Nations, bulldozed his way into space to lift Irish spirits but the respite was only brief.
France played as though they were on the training ground as they effortlessly clicked through the gears, finding space at will.
Number eight Imanol Harinordoquy was highly conspicuous as he twice charged into gaps before offloading with a deft slight of hand
Yachvili landed his second penalty to nudge them 13-0 ahead as Ireland continued to fall foul of referee Steve Walsh.
When they did eventually win a penalty, O’Gara produced a poor touchfinder and to sum up their first half Keith Earls ended their best attacking move by sending a pass straight into touch.
Ireland looked rattled and their attempts to build momentum lacked conviction in the face of such aggressive defensive from France and it was with some relief that O’Gara slotted a penalty to end a torrid half.
France started the second half with a bulldozing run from debutant number eight Raphael Lakafia before Ireland exploded into life for the first time in the match.
Trimble, impressive once again following a fine display against Scotland last weekend, expertly found a gap and offloaded to Kearney.
The Lions full-back raced 30 metres before running out of space and becoming isolated, but the move finished with an O’Gara penalty to give Ireland some reward.
O’Connell was brought on to a loud cheer from the travelling support and he was soon joined by most of the Irish bench, including Heaslip.
All the substitutions – Lievremont also used his replacements – had taken the urgency out of the game, but it was France who were suffering as they became increasingly ragged.
Two more O’Gara penalties followed and once more it was one way traffic but this time Ireland were in the driving seat.
Yachvili gave France some breathing space with a pair of penalties and there were clear signs they had woken from their slumbers after an unconvincing 30 minutes.
The match had regained its competitive edge too as both sides ran hard at each other.
Keith Earls almost slipped in at the right corner and it was France who were under pressure in the final stages.