Ruthless Ireland make perfect start to Six Nations title defence against 14-man France

Planet Rugby
Calvin Nash congratulated after scoring for Ireland.

Calvin Nash congratulated after scoring for Ireland.

Ireland put in an outstanding performance as they kicked off their Six Nations title defence with a clinical 38-17 bonus-point win over France in Marseille on Friday.

It was a ruthless effort from Andy Farrell’s men as they capitalised on Paul Willemse’s early yellow card and then eventual sending off to pick up a maximum on the road.

Ireland‘s tries came via Jamison Gibson-Park, Tadhg Beirne, Calvin Nash, Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher, with Jack Crowley kicking 13 points in a classy game at fly-half.

Damian Penaud and Paul Gabrillagues crossed in defeat for the French on a forgetful night at the Orange Velodrome as they went down to a disappointing Six Nations loss.

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The two teams came into a blockbuster showdown seeking to ease disappointment at falling short in their efforts to lift the Webb Ellis Cup in the autumn and having each lost influential captains.

Antoine Dupont’s temporary unavailability, as he focuses on his country’s sevens squad for this year’s Paris Olympics, afforded a start to scrum-half Maxime Lucu, while Crowley was given a chance to stake his claim as long-term fly-half successor to the retired Johnny Sexton.

Farrell’s men began in the ascendancy and led through an early Crowley penalty before Willemse was ordered off for ploughing into prop Andrew Porter.

A relieved Willemse had just learnt his yellow card would not be upgraded to red on review when Gibson-Park latched on to a fine Bundee Aki offload to ensure Ireland capitalised on their temporary numerical advantage.

Three points from France full-back Thomas Ramos’ penalty briefly improved the mood in the stands before Beirne collected Crowley’s pass to easily beat Jonathan Danty and dive over under the posts at the end of sustained Irish pressure.

Willemse’s reprieve proved only to be fleeting as he was dismissed eight minutes before the break following another dangerous challenge, this time on Caelan Doris.

Ireland were in complete control but head coach Farrell would have been frustrated to only hold a 17-10 half-time lead after Penaud, who moments early was repelled by a superb Hugo Keenan tackle, produced a spectacular finish to Matthieu Jalibert’s pass.

The visitors set aside the setback to restore their 14-point advantage six minutes after the restart as Munster wing Nash marked his first Test start with a memorable maiden try after being freed by Doris.

Deprived of Dupont, France were largely rudderless in attack.

But Fabien Galthie’s side again cut the deficit when Gabrillagues’ score was awarded following a lengthy review, an incident compounded from an Irish perspective by new captain Peter O’Mahony being sin-binned for bringing down the maul.

Ireland once more earned breathing space 18 minutes from time when Sheehan peeled off a rolling maul to finish his own line-out.

The staggeringly-simple score secured a merited bonus point for the dominant visitors and proved to be the fatal blow to French resistance.

Yet there was more punishment to come for the ragged hosts as replacement hooker Kelleher bulldozed over to cap a fine Ireland performance and ramp up pressure on Les Bleus head coach Galthie.

The teams

France: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Yoram Moefana, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Maxime Lucu, 8 Gregory Alldritt (c), 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Francois Cros, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Paul Gabrillagues, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Peato Mauvaka, 1 Cyril Baille
Replacements: 16 Julien Marchand, 17 Reda Wardi, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Posolo Tuilagi, 20 Paul Boudehent, 21 Cameron Woki, 22 Nolann Le Garrec, 23 Louis Bielle-Biarrey

Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Jack Crowley, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony (c), 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Joe McCarthy, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter
Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 James Ryan, 20 Ryan Baird, 21 Jack Conan, 22 Conor Murray, 23 Ciaran Frawley

Referee: Karl Dickson (England)
Assistant Referees: Matthew Carley (England), Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

READ MORE: Ireland player ratings: Rookies shine in epic victory over France in Six Nations opener