/ 12 February 2007

France break Irish hearts with late try

France winger Vincent Clerc scored a try one minute from time to clinch a nerve-rattling 20-17 win over Ireland in a Six Nations clash at Croke Park in Dublin on Sunday.

Ireland flyhalf Ronan O’Gara had landed a penalty with two minutes to play but from the resulting kick-off, the ball went loose and fell to French hands.

From second phase, Clerc received the ball in midfield and jinked past Irish prop John Hayes for the crucial score, substitute Lionel Beauxis adding the conversion to destroy Irish Grand Slam hopes and keep France’s very much alive.

O’Gara scored all Ireland’s points in a stirring encounter, while France skipper Raphael Ibanez crashed through a terrible Geordan Murphy tackle to cross for a try that saw the visitors build a 13-11 half-time lead.

The flyhalf scored a sparkling try as the Irish fought back from the early French maelstrom, a wonderful offload from flanker David Wallace fooling the covering Christophe Dominici.

He also slotted four penalties but France dug deep when it really mattered.

Ireland looked to have overcome the absence of injured skipper Brian O’Driscoll and scrumhalf Peter Stringer, but they had to regroup after making a terrible start.

Ireland conceded 13 points in the first 14 minutes as their scrum and line-out malfunctioned, with France forging clear through hooker Ibanez’s well-worked try after flyhalf David Skrela slotted two early penalties.

O’Driscoll was badly missed during the early stages — Ireland appeared flustered and indecisive in his absence — and it was not until eight minutes before half-time that a near-capacity 82 000 crowd had something to celebrate.

O’Gara edged Ireland ahead for the first time on 56 minutes, and both sides defied fatigue to maintain a thrilling tempo.

France were denied when Beauxis’s 74th-minute drop-goal hit the post before O’Gara nailed a long-range penalty three minutes later.

Clerc then administered a world-class finish to give the French a dramatic win. — Sapa-AFP