Ireland 22-26 France, Aviva Stadium, August 20
Ireland fail to halt losing run
August 20, 2011
Healy's try gave Ireland the lead in the early stages of the match
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Ireland's Rugby World Cup preparations suffered a fresh blow with a 26-22 defeat to France at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
An eighth-minute try from prop Cian Healy - who later had to be helped from the pitch - and five points from the boot of Jonathan Sexton saw them race ahead in a dominant first quarter. But France scored 26 unanswered points through tries from Cedric Heymans and Francois Trinh-Duc, who also landed a monster drop-goal from near the halfway line, and the flawless kicking of Morgan Parra.
When Sexton and Sean O'Brien dived over for late tries, Les Bleus were already beyond reach as they claimed an 11th victory against Ireland in 12 meetings dating back to 2003. Hoping to build some momentum to carry into the World Cup, the Irish now face the very real prospect of departing for New Zealand with a quartet of Test defeats eating at their self-confidence.
An England side hell-bent on avenging the demise of their Grand Slam dream in Dublin in March completes the grueling schedule arranged by coach Declan Kidney next Saturday. Rampaging blindside O'Brien was superb once more, but the team has become over-reliant on his ball-carrying and there were few other players making inroads.
Penetration was also lacking in the backs, particularly in the midfield, where the policy of flinging the ball wide as early as possible proved largely unsuccessful. Centres Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy, both back from injury lay-offs, came through unscathed and there were welcome final-quarter appearances from Stephen Ferris and Jerry Flannery.
There were few other positives, though one source of comfort was Ireland destroying Les Bleus in the scrum. However, even this encouraging development was tempered by the departure of Healy and Kidney will be praying for a positive fitness update on his loose-head.
Ireland were full of ambition and much of their early play was dynamic, if a little lateral at times. A third-minute penalty from Sexton, won after Maxime Medard had executed a high tackle on winger Keith Earls, settled their nerves and they were quickly back on the offensive.
France briefly held back the green tide, but a bulldozing run from O'Brien cranked up the pressure. O'Brien flattened fly-half David Skrela, who limped off and was replaced by Trinh-Duc, and set off on a 30-metre run.
The move continued when he was eventually hauled down with Healy powering through two defenders to crash over in the ninth minute, with Sexton's conversion making it 10-0. Having dominated the opening 25 minutes, however, the balance of power shifted away from Ireland when they lost focus.
Parra's kicking and Trinh-Duc's mind-boggling drop-goal began the fight back, but better was to come in the 31st minute when they produced a marvelous try with Aurelien Rougerie threading his way into a half-gap. D'Arcy had hold of him but was not robust enough in the tackle, allowing Rougerie to slip the ball to Heymans who sprinted over, with Parra converting.
It was now France who were in full control and their lead was extended to eight points when Earls was penalised for tackling Trinh-Duc without the ball, handing Parra another three points. France continued to keep the scoreboard ticking with Parra booting his third penalty, this one from close to the touchline.
A kamikaze moment from Ireland led to Les Bleus' second try as Tomas O'Leary, having watched his pack dominate another scrum 10 metres from their own line, launched a long pass to Jamie Heaslip that was intercepted by Trinh-Duc. The run in was easy for the Montpellier fly-half and Parra made no mistake with the conversion.
Ireland's problems were compounded when Healy was helped from the pitch and the blundering O'Leary was soon replaced by Eoin Reddan. Fullback Felix Jones was then driven off on the medical cart after falling awkwardly under the high ball.
Ireland refused to give up and were rewarded with tries for Sexton and O'Brien - Ronan O'Gara converted both - but they had been chasing a lost cause for some time.
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