By Simon Lewis, Paris
FRANCE 10 IRELAND 9
Ireland's five-match unbeaten run against France came to a punishing end as Guy Noves' side edged home a tight Six Nations encounter at Stade de France today.
It was a victory for the French pack who bludgeoned Ireland at the scrum and left them still without a win after two games of their RBS 6 Nations campaign having drawn their home opener with Wales six days ago.
That short turnaround between games proved telling as France turned the screw at scrum-time until finally crossing the line on 70 minutes as the Irish pack, on a final warning before the award of a penalty try, were exposed by a clever switch out wide, Maxime Medard going over with Maxime Mechenaud's conversion nudging France into a 10-9 lead that would prove the final score.
Ireland dominated an attritional first half on a sodden pitch, Johnny Sexton continuing his excellent place kicking from last week's draw with Wales into round two with three penalties from three attempts as France lacked discipline around the ruck and off the ball.
Sexton had been hit late by Yoann Maestri on the quarter-hour but after treatment getting up off the deck to slot the resulting penalty.
The Irish medical staff were working overtime as flanker Sean O'Brien, back in the side after recovering from a tight hamstring, was forced off in the 20th minute having appeared to jar his knee when carrying and changing direction.
There was another enforced first-half change when Dave Kearney failed to shake off the effects of a big and possibly high tackle, leaving the field clutching his shoulder in the 28th minute with Mike McCarthy following him seven minutes later, blood streaming from a cut close to his eye.
Casualties aside, it was Ireland's half although they failed to capitalise as they might have done, the Parisian rain causing plenty of spilled ball.
France's attacking play was simply directionless, their inexperienced half backs Sebastien Bezy and Jules Plisson, just eight caps between them, unable to get their pacy and powerful outside backs involved while ruck indiscipline gave Sexton the chance to double Ireland's lead on 28 minutes.
Plisson got France up and running three minutes later with a penalty after McCarthy was pinged for not rolling away but Sexton restored Ireland's six-point lead two minutes before the break, his opposite number failing with a touchline penalty on the stroke of half-time to leave Ireland in front at 9-3.
Ireland would not trouble the scoreboard in the second half, as France ratcheted up the power of their pack, driving captain Guilhem Guirado over the line in the 63rd minute, only for the hooker to be denied a try when the TMO ruled there had been no clear or obvious grounding.
That led to a five-metre scrum, the French supporters sensing their side were on the brink of something good by launching into a rousing rendition of La Marseillaise.
Whether Les Bleus needed the encouragement was debatable for they had Ireland's number anyway, and two scrum penalties later, they had the breakthrough score.
Substitute scrum-half Machenaud drew opposite number Conor Murray with a clever run then released full-back Medard, who easily sidestepped the on-rushing Robbie Henshaw and trotted over the line.
Plisson's conversion edged France in front and the one-point lead was enough to see them home, Ian Madigan, on for Sexton, sending the restart out on the full and handing France the ball back, enabling them to see out the remaining time without too much threat to their line.
FRANCE: M Médard; T Thomas (H Bonneval, 44), M Mermoz, J Danty (J-M Doussain, 76), V Vakatawa; J Plisson, S Bézy (M Machenaud, 55); J Poirot (E Ben Arous, 44, reversed 74), G Guirado – captain (C Chat, 48-57; 74), U Atonio (R Slimani, 44); A Flanquart, Y Maestri (P Jedrasiak, 58); W Lauret, Y Camara (L Goujon, 67), D Chouly.
IRELAND: R Kearney; A Trimble, J Payne, R Henshaw, D Kearney (F McFadden, 28); J Sexton (I Madigan, 69), C Murray; J McGrath, R Best – captain (R Strauss, 70), N White (T Furlong, 62); D Toner, M McCarthy (D Ryan, 35-40 blood; 62); CJ Stander, S O'Brien (T O'Donnell, 20), J Heaslip.
Replacements not used: J Cronin, E Reddan.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)