Ireland will go into the final round with an outside chance of claiming the Six Nations title following a dominant 26-14 triumph over France at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.
The Emerald Isle are currently third in the table, two points below leaders Wales, and they will have to beat Warren Gatland’s side and hope that England fail to win against Scotland for them to defend their championship.
Joe Schmidt’s men prepared well for their gargantuan contest next week, however. They combined physicality with some nice touches with ball in hand against Les Bleus to score three tries and go into the break 19-0 in front.
Rory Best, Johnny Sexton and replacement Jack Conan all touched down as they effectively ended the game as a contest in the opening 40 minutes.
Keith Earls then sealed the bonus-point in the third quarter to secure the win and complete a miserable day for the French, despite Yoann Huget’s and Camille Chat’s late consolation efforts.
It was another abysmal display from Les Bleus as a slack defence made it all too easy for the hosts to get over the gain line. CJ Stander and Tadhg Furlong needed no invitation and the visitors were consistently sent into reverse.
Those facets were all in evidence with the opening try when they set up a maul and powered towards the whitewash. The result was inevitable and Best splintered off to touch down for an early 7-0 advantage.
The hosts were impressive but no one was taking responsibility for France. Antoine Dupont, so spritely and confident against Scotland, was indecisive and his lack of control almost cost them a try, only for Cian Healy to let them off with a knock on.
Ireland were not to be denied, however, and a trademark Sexton wraparound saw the visitors take the bait. Huget and Gael Fickou rather comically collided and the home side’s fly-half simply touched down by the right-hand upright.
At 14-0 down, it was already an uphill battle, particularly with Jacques Brunel’s charges showing few signs of creating anything of note. Ireland were dominant aerially and in the kicking game, and the pressure resulted in a number of errors from the visitors.
Another turnover in their own 22 saw Les Bleus cede possession once again and Conan barrelled his way over for a 19-0 lead at the break.
France were slightly better in the early stages of the second half, winning a couple of penalties and taking play well into the opposition half, but their attack was stagnant and a swarming Irish defence halted any potential threat.
Instead, Ireland turned over the ball and exposed the French’s poor organisation in backfield. A period of play in the away team’s 22 ensued before a lovely set-piece move resulted in Earls scampering clear to confirm the bonus-point.
It was well and truly game over, but the French did manage to avoid suffering any further embarrassment as Huget and Chat went over late on.
Tries: Best, Sexton, Conan, Earls
Cons: Sexton 3
Tries: Huget, Chat
Cons: Serin 2
Yellow Card: Aldegheri