The idea of an Irish World Cup hangover was put to bed by the impressive Ireland team on Friday night. The Irish rugby team recorded one of their most famous ever wins after they beat the French at the Stade Orange Vélodrome in Marseille, 17-38.
Tries from Jamison Gibson-Park, Tadhg Beirne, Dan Sheehan, Ronan Kelleher, and Calvin Nash meant that Ireland's hardest game of the Six Nations is out of the way in week 1, and the idea of retaining the Grand Slam is more believable than ever before.
Ireland came into the game looking to put right a stat that had not gone their way since 2018. Since that year, Ireland has not won in France. However, Ireland were the current Grand Slam holders and had beaten the French in Dublin on their way to a Slam in 2023.
There had been doubts that Ireland could pick themselves up from that loss to New Zealand at the Rugby World Cup, but this was another remarkable result for Andy Farrell's side, and that was highlighted by the excellent Leinster lock, Joe McCarthy. McCarthy was given the Man-of-the-Match award for his display in the south of France.
Here's how the game went on Friday night.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) February 2, 2024
An early surge from France had Ireland scrambling near the touchline, but Hugo Keenan's intervention on Damian Penuad ended that matter.
There had been a lot made about Jack Crowley's Ireland potential after becoming the next outhalf following former Ireland captain Sexton's retirement, and it would have been unwise to think he would be nervous. Still, he showed no nerves when given a penalty from metres out. Crowley converted to give the Irish the opening score.
Two minutes later, Ireland lost Andrew Porter through a head injury assessment. France's Paul Willemse was given a yellow card for meeting Porter's head. This was reviewed and stayed that colour because of the "drop in height."
Ireland was the better team in the first 10 minutes, and the home team rattled the French with their intensity. This was highlighted five minutes later when Ireland's best player at the World Cup, Bundee Aki, produced a brilliant bit of skill to find Jamison Gibson-Park. The Leinster scrumhalf touched down for the opening try. Crowley converted to make it 10-0 within the first twenty minutes.
Ireland thought they had another try from Josh van Der Flier, but he was held up on the line. Crowley was given another chance to add to the score from the tee but was unable to build on Ireland's lead from 34 metres out.
A knock-on from Six Nations debutant Joe McCarthy gave France a little bit of belief, and that belief eventually resulted in three points for the home side. Thomas Ramos found the posts from a penalty moments later. The score stood at 3-10 at 27 minutes.
It looked like Ireland was going to let the French turn up after 28 minutes, but they were 8 points up when Tadhg Beirne was found by Crowley. Beirne touched down, and Crowley made no mistake to make it 3–17 on the night.
There was more card drama when the first player to get a yellow card, Willemse, met Doris on the charge. He was given a second yellow for his second tackle of the night. This was upgraded to red eventually.
France could have laid down and rolled with the punches, but whatever was said between the players inspired them to stand up and be counted against this excellent Irish side.
A spell of constant pressure near the end of the half resulted in a last-gasp try from Damian Penaud. Matthieu Jalibert found the onrushing Penaud to make it 10-17 at halftime.
The teams came back out, and Ireland gave away an early penalty in the second half, but Ramos was unable to make it 13-17.
Porter, who passed his HIA, was reintroduced back into the fold, and it was his steal that allowed Ireland their first touch of the ball in the second half.
Ireland didn't lose the ball from there, and the phase buildup resulted in a third try and a debut score for debutant Calvin Nash. Excellent attacking play near France's line meant that Caelen Doris found Nash in space, and the Munster winger made no mistake for his first Ireland try. Crowley converted to make it 10-24.
The hosts refused to give up, and they were back on the offensive inside the Irish 22. In a pivotal moment, France's desperate push for a score was denied by millimeters, leading to a penalty. Paul Gabrillagues' possible grounding underwent intense scrutiny after O’Mahony received a yellow card for collapsing the maul. Despite a tight call, the TMO couldn't overturn the on-field decision, confirming a try for France. The score was 17-24, and both teams had 14 players each.
Errors that didn't occur in the first half for Ireland started to appear in the second half, and the pressure from the French was telling. However, Ireland had another moment that relieved pressure. James Lowe stole the ball and won a scrum for Andy Farrell's side. Because of this, a stream of pressure from Ireland resulted in a bonus point try from the excellent Dan Sheehan. A lineout resulted in a maul; from that maul, Sheehan found the line, with Crowley converting once again. The score stood at 17-31.
👊 Ronan Kelleher seals the deal for Ireland as they record their highest-ever score against France
A dominant display from the visitors to kick off the tournament 🙌 #GuinnessSixNations pic.twitter.com/cx1gYJUh6Y
— ITV Rugby (@ITVRugby) February 2, 2024
France: Thomas Ramos; Damian Penaud; Gael Fickou; Jonathan Danty; Yoram Moefana; Matthieu Jalibert; Maxime Lucu; Cyril Baille; Peato Mauvaka; Uini Atonio; Paul Gabrillagues; Paul Willemse; Francois Cros; Charles Ollivon; Gregory Alldritt (captain).
Replacements: Julien Marchand, Reda Wardi, Dorian Aldegheri, Posolo Tuilagi, Cameron Woki, Paul Boudehent, Nolann Le Garrec, and Louis Bielle-Biarrey.
Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Calvin Nash; Robbie Henshaw; Bundee Aki; James Lowe; Jack Crowley; Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter; Dan Sheehan; Tadhg Furlong; Joe McCarthy; Tadhg Beirne; Peter O'Mahony (captain); Josh van der Flier; Caelan Doris.
Replacements: Rónan Kelleher, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, James Ryan, Ryan Baird, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, and Ciarán Frawley.
Referee: Karl Dickson (Eng)
Assistant Referee 1: Matthew Carley (Eng)
Assistant Referee 2: Jordan Way (Aus)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wal)