French keep World Cup hopes alive

Hosts France kept their nerve and their hopes alive of landing their first World Cup title in Paris on Friday as they beat Ireland 25-3 in their crunch group-D clash at the Stade de France.

Defeat would have meant an all but certain exit for the hosts, but the good news was tempered by the fact that unless either minnows Namibia or the Irish beat Argentina, they will collide with favourites New Zealand in the quarterfinals in Cardiff.

Two second-half tries by winger Vincent Clerc and 15 points from man-of-the-match Jean-Baptiste Elissalde were enough to see the Irish off in what had been a nervy and close run affair till the Toulouse flyer scored his first.

For the Irish, who under coach Eddie O’Sullivan have won just once against the French since he took over in 2001, it is almost mission impossible where only a massive win over the Pumas on Sunday week can give them any chance of making the last eight.

“We really needed to pull out a big match and above all else to win. We went about it in just the right way,” said French coach Bernard Laporte. “We built up our attacks and we knew how to stay patient except for two or three occasions in the first half.

“We didn’t get the bonus point and that’s a pity, but the important thing was to win and move ahead of the Irish and that’s what we did.”

Elissalde opened the scoring in the sixth minute, after the opening exchanges had seen some dreadful kicking for touch, notably by Frederic Michalak who missed with his first four kicks as he slotted over a penalty from close range.

Ronan O’Gara had a great chance to level in the 11th minute, after Serge Betsen had fouled Simon Easterby in the line-out, but he put his penalty wide of the posts.

The French came closest to a try in the first half when an Irish handling error saw them counter-attack, and would have done so but for a stunning last-ditch tackle by Shane Horgan on Clement Poitrenaud.

Ireland still conceded a penalty—for offside earlier in the play—that Elissalde gratefully accepted to make it 6-0.

The immaculate Elissalde added another penalty three minutes later, while the out-of-sorts O’Gara, who had been plagued by the French media through the week slurring him according to O’Sullivan over alleged gambling debts and the break-up of his marriage, received a stern talking-to from referee Chris White.

O’Gara showed some poise to land a drop goal in the 37th minute and put the Irish on the scoreboard.
However, Elissalde, who was the coolest head on the pitch, added his fourth on the stroke of the break to make it 12-3.

France coach Bernard Laporte had seen enough and was already walking down the tunnel as Elissalde stroked it over. He was present, though, when the Toulouse star added another in the 55th minute to give the French some breathing space.

However, the mercurial genius that is Michalak created the moment that broke the Irish as his delightful and inspired chip into space over the Irish defence saw Clerc run on to touch it down. Elissalde for once failed with the boot to make the score 20-3 with 20 minutes remaining.

The Irish were imploding and it all but reached its nadir when the vastly experienced lock Paul O’Connell, who with fellow British and Irish Lion Donncha O’Callaghan had been bested throughout the night by their opposite numbers, was yellow-carded by White in the 63rd minute.

Clerc then added his second try deep in the right-hand corner as he twisted and turned to foil Andrew Trimble and O’Gara’s efforts to stop him and effectively end Irish interest in the tournament while prolonging French hopes.—Sapa-AFP

Pirate Irwin

Pirate Irwin

Pirate Irwin is a journalist with Agence France Presse , who has been based in Paris for 16 years having initially arrived for just a six month summer stay. Born in Ireland in 1965 and educated at Eton and Institute for Foreign Students in Tours after missing out on University by a large margin. His first name is a gift from his grandfather inspired by Radio Caroline but not appreciated by a Roman Catholic priest at christening.  Read more from Pirate Irwin

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