France close Irish eyes

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DUBLIN, February 13- France retained their hopes of defending their Six Nations Grand Slam title here on Sunday at Lansdowne Road as they beat an unlucky Irish side 25-22 in a thrilling no-holds barred contest.

The Irish will curse themselves for their ill-disciplne as the visitors landed six penalties – including five from Morgan Parra – as the hosts outscored the French three tries to one.

The hosts’ tries came from Fergus McFadden, with his first try for his country, Tomas O’Leary, who had been unable to train all week because of an injury worry, and Jamie Heaslip, who was returning from injury.

Maxime Medard got France’s sole try, his second in successive tests.

French captain Thierry Dusautoir was a relieved man at the final whistle, telling the BBC: "It was a very tough game, perhaps not the game of the year but a very important one to win.

"Thank goodness we stayed in it despite only scoring one try. I’m very happy and proud of the team – it’s never easy to come here."

Teammate Imanol Harinordoquy added: "This is only the second time I’ve won here in ten years, we don’t win here a lot! It was hard, there was only a line out or a scrum in it at the end."

Ireland burst out of the stalls from the kick-off and the stadium erupted in the fifth minute as McFadden burrowed over.

The Leinster back’s try had stemmed from a dreadful knock-on by French fullback Clement Poitrenaud, which had handed the Irish back possession – Sexton converted to make it 7-0.

It was no more than they deserved as shortly before Luke Fitzgerald had had a try ruled out by Dave Pearson because of a forward pass.

French scrum-half Parra reduced the deficit with a penalty just after the 10 minute mark, but Sexton replied with a penalty of his own shortly afterwards to make it 10-3.

However, the visitors crept to within a point of the hosts by the 22nd minute as Parra’s faultless kicking added two penalties.

Pearson was sorely testing captain Brian O’Driscoll’s vow of silence, with regards to talking to the referee during the match, as the Englishman penalised the Irish again and Parra stroked over the penalty that gave them the lead for the first time in the 28th minute.

Ireland, though, had the final say in the first-half as O’Leary touched down after persistent Irish pressure, Pearson referring it to the video referee, who adjudged the scrum-half had not done a double movement after being brought down by Nicolas Mas short of the line.

Sexton missed the conversion to send the hosts in 15-12 up.

France drew level in the 50th minute as Parra landed his fifth penalty and at this point France coach Marc Lievremont withdrew the unfortunate Poitrenaud and replaced him with Vincent Clerc, so often the scourge of Ireland in the past four years.

However, it was to be his fellow Toulouse wing Medard who took the acclaim for France’s first try as Rougerie broke a tackle in midfield and once again like in the opening win over Scotland set up Medard for the touchdown with a well-timed pass.

Dimitri Yachvili, who had just replaced Parra, converted to make it 22-15, but missed a chance shortly before the hour to extend the lead as he missed with a penalty.

However, Irish indiscipline was running out of control, certainly in the view of Pearson, who once again penalised them and called O’Driscoll over for a chat – Yachvili duly converted the penalty for a 25-15 lead.

The Irish, though, would not lie down and came storming back with a long sustained spell on the French line, which eventually saw them rewarded as Heaslip was found by fellow backrower David Wallace and the Israel-born No8 went over in the corner.

Ronan O’Gara, who had replaced Sexton, converted brilliantly from the touchline to make it 25-22 with 10 minutes left but despite late pressure deep inside the French 22 they couldn’t quite pull off what would have been a deserved victory.

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