Six Nations 2004
France end Irish hopes
February 14, 2004
Jean-baptiste Elissalde dives in to score
© Getty Images
France ran in three second half tries to banish Irish hopes at the Stade de France, condemning Eddie O'Sullivan's men to their third defeat in four visits to the Saint Denis venue, in the RBS Six Nations 2004 opening game.
Having played in patches, France awoke in a stunning five minute spell at the start of the second period, scoring a brace of tries through Bourgoin lock Pascal Pape on his first outing, sparking a capacity crowd Mexican wave, and wily centre Yannick Jauzion, sprinting clear onto a flicked pass from midfield partner Damien Traille.
The visitors opened well however, playing a territorial-based game with out-half Ronan O'Gara kicking most of what half back partner Peter Stringer could feed him. Captain Paul O'Connell was impressive in the loose, spurring two turnovers and claiming five of hooker Shane Byrne's eight throws from eight.
But it was elsewhere that the Irish were to fall down. O'Gara kicked the Irish in front with a sixth minute penalty from 30 metres, after scrum-half debutante Jean-Baptiste Elissalde was guilty of infringing at an Irish scrum.
Opposite number Michalak missed an early penalty reply three minutes later from the left wing, but critically with the French line in sight and a three-to-two overlap in the French 22, centre Gordon D'Arcy chose to go it alone and was smothered by the double tackle of Yannick Jauzion and Nicolas Brusque.
Ireland's positive if aerial attacking platform was dented as France began to edge the possession stakes, as Michalak punished an O'Gara offside to draw level from his second penalty attempt.
The blue tide swept over the Irish defence on 27 minutes as Traille broke the Irish line and second phase ball saw right winger Vincent Clerc dart over under Tyrone Howe's tackle in the left corner. Michalak missed wildly with the conversion attempt before opening up an eight-point lead with his second penalty nine minutes before the break.
The World Cup semi-finalists clocked an early blow, conceding a great off-the-cuff chip forward by O'Gara and collect by number 8 Anthony Foley, with the Munster out-half's conversion bringing Ireland to within a point on 44 minutes.
French skipper Fabien Pelous exploited a gap almost immediately in the Irish rearguard only for bustling prop Peter de Villiers to knock on ten metres from the Irish goal line. At 11-10 it was all to play for, but a sudden change of gears saw France score 14 points just before the hour mark, through Pape's first try and Jauzion arrowed his run off the shoulder of Traille to score under the posts for his seventh international score on 55 minutes.
Two minutes later, Ireland infringed and Michalak put his side 28-10 in front. O'Sullivan brought on fresh legs in Donncha O'Callaghan and hooker Frankie Sheahan and Ireland duly claimed a third heartening try through Ulster wing Tyrone Howe on 66 minutes, although there were questions of a close range forward pass from centre D'Arcy in the build up.
O'Gara's conversion put nine between the sides, but les Bleus stepped up their rhythm again and when substitute centre Brian Liebenberg deftly offloaded for scrum-half Elissalde to ghost inside John Hayes' challenge at a ruck on the Irish 22, the double score win was confirmed.
Four minutes from time, a cross field kick from O'Gara just evaded the grasp of replacement wing Anthony Horgan, perhaps summing up an afternoon when France were just out of reach for last season's Six Nations runners-up.
Scorers: France: Tries: Clerc, Pape, Jauzion, Elissalde; Pen: Michalak 3; Con: Michalak 3 Ireland: Tries: Foley, Howe; Pen: O'Gara; Con: O'Gara 2
FRANCE: N Brusque; V Clerc, Y Jauzion, D Traille, C Dominici; F Michalak, J Elissalde; S Marconnet, W Servat, P De Villiers, F Pelous (Capt), P Pape, S Betsen, O Magne, I Harinordoquy. Replacements: Y Bru, J Crenca, D Auradou, T Lievremont, D Yachvili, B Liebenberg, P Elhorga. Subs used: D Auradou for Pape (63 mins), B Liebenberg for Traille (67 mins), J Crenca and T Lievremont for Marconnet and Magne (69 mins), Y Bru for Servat (71 mins), D Yachvili and P Elhorga for Elissalde and Clerc (79 mins)
IRELAND: G Dempsey; S Horgan, G D'Arcy, K Maggs, T Howe; R O'Gara, P Stringer; R Corrigan, S Byrne, J Hayes, M O'Kelly, P O'Connell (Capt), S Easterby, K Gleeson, A Foley. Replacements: F Sheahan, S Best, D O'Callaghan, V Costello, G Easterby, D Humphreys, A Horgan. Subs used: D O'Callaghan for O'Kelly (temp. 29-31 mins), D O'Callaghan and F Sheahan for O'Kelly and Byrne (61 mins), A Horgan for Howe (75 mins), V Costello for Gleeson (78 mins)
Referee: Chris White (England)