CJ Stander and James Ryan immense as Ireland keep title fight alive
IRELAND 26-14 FRANCE
Ireland beat the holy hell out of an ordinary France side to ensure they go to Cardiff next weekend still in with a title chance.
Their comprehensive victory over Les Bleus, at the Aviva Stadium, laves them third in the standings but a win over Grand Slam-chasing Wales should put second-placed England under pressure going into the final game of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.
Ireland scored after only three minutes when Rory Best dotted down in the corner after a rolling maul. Ireland were in the French 22 for 51% of the first half but their dominance only showed on the scoreboard near the end of the first half, when Johnny Sexton then Jack Conan scored to make it 19-0.
France started the second half brightly but Ireland fronted up and eventually turned the tables. After another period of pressure, a smart Irish lineout saw CJ Stander find Keith Earls on the charge and the try-scoring bonus was secured with over 20 minutes left to play. Ireland pressed to improve their points advantage but it was Yoann Huget that got the game's final score.
Here's how we rated Joe Schmidt's men in green:
Jordan Larmour - 8
A late call-up to the starting XV, started with a nice kick in behind French lines. was then fortunate Penaud knocked on when exposed by a smart cross-kick. Had the ball ripped off him near the French tryline, on 15 minutes. Neat footwork had France in trouble not long before Sexton's try. Hd the crowd on their feet with one brilliant line break that left four French players for dead and almost, almost resulted in a great try.
Keith Earls - 7
Cut inside, early on, for a lovely line break. Was teed up for a couple of cross-kick contests with Huget but only one could be considered 50/50. Cracking line and impressive speed to score from a move that started with him in the Irish lineout.
Garry Ringrose - 6
Was bulldozed back by Bastareaud and had to juggle a couple of stray passes but looked lively. Came off second best in another coming together with the big French centre, when he was turned over, and was denied what would have been a great try by the video replays. Made a lovely blindside hit on Dupont to win his side a turnover. Nailed Dupont again to get Ireland a five-metre scrum but missed a few tackles and was penalised before being subbed off, late in the game.
Bundee Aki - 6
Showed calmness and strength to retain the ball when he slipped taking a pass on his 22. Made 11 carries without much cutting edge and tackled well.
Jacob Stockdale - 6
Was enjoying the physicality of it out there and put both Ramos and Penaud under pressure on kick-chases. Blew one opportunity when chipping a ball over the endline when one-on-one with his marker. Repeated the trick in the second half.
Johnny Sexton - 7.5
Lovely touchline conversion, on four minutes, settled nerves and helped him get into the contest. Really grew into this contest and was pulling strings, and pulling France apart, from 20 minutes on. Scored a classic, Leinster/Ireland loop try.
Johnny Sexton responds to French intimidation with this beauty of a try!pic.twitter.com/tdRJLD8vFV
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) March 10, 2019
Conor Murray - 6
Passing was scratchy in the opening 20 minutes and he did a lot of griping about French players slowing ball down. Good to see the box-kick causing trouble again.
Cian Healy - 6
May have been lucky to avoid sanction when he slapped out an admonishing hand, much to French annoyance. Nearly had a try when France stalled at the breakdown on their own line, but knocked on. French were trying to wind him up all afternoon. Missed a few tackles but solid in set-pieces.
Rory Best - 6
Got over for his 10th Test try after three minutes of play. Lineout looked a lot better than in Rome, when Best was missing, but he was still guilty of an overthrow. Missed three of seven tackles attempted.
Tadhg Furlong - 7
Much more like it from Furlong as he made a couple of strong carries and showed off his passing in a couple of moves that stretched France.
Iain Henderson - 8
Great performance from Henderson. Full of physicality and bite. Drove many a French player back where they came from and carried well. Gave away a penalty, on 50, and was warned for back-chat.
James Ryan - 8.5
Antoine Dupont knows not to try run out from behind his line when Ryan is around. Was another player that produced the good and won the physical battle against most that he came across. Up there with Stander for Ireland's best player.
Peter O'Mahony - 8
Made for days like this. A nuisance to the French, in attack and defence, but he really stepped up at openside when van der Flier came off. Secured a couple of turnovers and got involved in a few of his customary jersey-grabbing dust-ups.
Josh van der Flier - 5
Was tipping away okay, without making any massive inroads, when a suspected knee injury ended his participation after 24 minutes.
CJ Stander - 8.5
Good to have him back. Led the way for carries and tackles as Ireland got comprehensively on top in the first 40. So vocal too. Beauty of an inside switch pass for Earls' try. One second half carry saw him swatting Huget and Ntamack away before Bastareaud pasted him.
Jack Conan (for van der Flier '24) - 8
Has a habit of making greater impacts off the bench and so it proved again as he scored a try 10 minutes after coming on.
Dave Kilcoyne (for Healy '54) - 7
Moshed theFrench scrum when he came on.
John Cooney (for Murray '57) - 7
One of his first actions was to dink a great ball in to pin France in their corner. Added real zip.
John Ryan (for Furlong '57) - 6
Had fun in those second half scrums.
Ultan Dillane (forHenderson '57) - 6
Some good carries after his introduction.
Niall Scannell (for Best '57) - 6
We got the odd sight of Scannell being out-hooked at one scrum.
Jack Carty (for Sexton '58) - 6
Andrew Conway (for Ringrose '74) N/A