France maintained a perfect start to the Six Nations by beating Ireland 15-13 on Sunday at Lansdowne Road for the first time in 10 years.
A second win from two matches moved France to the top of the table, ahead of the only other unbeaten side, Wales, on points difference.
Meanwhile, the Irish lost their opening two games for the first time since 1998 and are consigned to playing for third place for a third straight year.
France weathered an invigorating start from Ireland and went ahead with the opening try to captain Charles Ollivon while teammate Bernard Le Roux was in the sin-bin. Their second well-worked try to wing Damian Penaud extended the lead to 15-3 nearly an hour in.
In what has been a tough place for France to win, it took both of its try chances, and in a superb display of gritty game management the defense did the rest.
They corralled the deep-passing Irish, who struggled to get over the gainline. The one try France conceded was a solo opportunist score by hooker Ronan Kelleher. Goalkicks by Ross Byrne closed the gap to two points but Ireland never looked like bridging that over the last 16 minutes. The game finished when Ireland, after 16 phases, was turned over on halfway by Antoine Dupont.
“Ten years we had not won here, the storyline is incredible,” Dupont said. “We appreciate the victories even more when they come with pain. We were waiting for this Irish fight. We were not disappointed.”
The drama in Dublin was heightened by Ireland having a try disallowed and France flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert missing three of his five goalkicks.
The Irish enjoyed the early running on a wet field. Billy Burns, in for the injured Jonathan Sexton, was directing his kicks well and France was under set-piece pressure. Burns shanked his first goalkick, reviving memories of his missed touch-finder that ended the loss to Wales in round one, but only three minutes later he received a second regulation goalkick and nailed it.
Le Roux then was sin-binned for tripping Keith Earls, and his absence at the next lineout was exploited by Ireland. Robbie Henshaw, Burns and fullback Hugo Keenan set up wing James Lowe to crash over. But the try was ruled out as France fullback Brice Dulin knocked Lowe’s foot into touch.
France, a man down, then showed marvellous maturity and style by pinning down Ireland and scoring against the run of play. Offloads by backs Jalibert, Dupont and Gael Fickou gave Ollivon a clean run to the line.
Jalibert converted and added a penalty for 10-3 as Ireland’s possession dried up in the second quarter.
“You’ve got to punish people when you have an extra man and we didn’t do that,” Ireland stand-in captain Iain Henderson said. “A penalty or try in there (by us) and it’s a different-looking second half and it changes the way France play. We didn’t capitalize.”
In an eventful 42nd minute, France hooker Julien Marchand’s burst to the tryline was stopped but Burns, after a tidy first Six Nations start, was forced off by a head knock after tackling No. 8 Gregory Alldritt and replaced by Byrne. Seconds later, Henderson and prop Cian Healy smashed heads and were forced to the blood bin. They eventually returned.
France was in the ascendency. From scrum ball, Jalibert switched direction, found Dulin free, and the tracking Penaud touched down in the right corner.
Kelleher’s first act as replacement Ireland hooker was a throw-in — cut off by Ollivon. But the tap down bounced kindly for Kelleher who hared to the tryline.
Byrne converted Kelleher’s first test try and added a 40-meter penalty but France allowed no more. Ireland harmed its own cause with 16 handling errors.
“The guys showed a real strong mindset,” said Fickou, the captain of France’s defense. “With this mentality, we can do great things.”
France next hosts Scotland on Feb 28.