The plot increased further in the first 10 minutes. Conor Murray had a hopeful swing to a 57-yard penalty. He had the distance but was wide. Three minutes later, it was France who scored the first points of the match – and in a typically brilliant way. Anthony Bouthier sent Gaël Fickou on a run to the left, the winger scratching Ireland’s header, and he spun the ball inside for Dupont to rise to the line.
With an early try, would France keep the maturity to not yet dream of this 31-point victory? Indeed, the game has turned heavily in favor of Ireland. Bouthier saw yellow for slapping the ball in touch in the corner, under pressure from Hugo Keenan.
France handled the famous Irish-led alignment with authority, but the Irish returned. After a series of close-range discs, Cian Healy emulated Ben Youngs earlier today by scoring in his 100th selection, his try at a rather closer distance.
Ireland’s relentless live play was France’s biggest headache – that and the hosts’ tendency to breach. Johnny Sexton’s penalty put Ireland in the lead, but France remained cool – and brilliant. The variety of their handling and angles was on another level, with Dupont darting threateningly in and around a slender set of forwards, each of them looking equally at home on the ball.
Jacob Stockdale struggled to get down to a few floating balls, the second after a French sweep suit, which carried the ball left and then right. Francois Cros hacked Stockdale’s fumble down the line, prompting Caelen Doris to tackle him off the ball – yellow card and penalty try. France is back in front.
They couldn’t capitalize. Sexton and Ntamack traded penalties, but when Doris came back and Ireland went for the corner with the red clock, France’s defense was really impressive. Ireland had to settle for a 17-13 deficit at the break.
France scored 11 points in as many minutes at the start of the second half, and it is these young half-backs who are at the heart of it again. Bouthier was cool under a high ball, slipping it to Ntamack, who fed Fickou. Dupont was on the latter’s chip in front. His ball inside was picked up by Ntamack, who placed third from France. Ntamack missed the conversion, but in six minutes he had picked up two penalties to stretch France’s lead to 15. Which meant three more unanswered scores in the remaining half hour would bring them that title.
They didn’t seem distracted. Their dominance remained calm and contained, but it was Ireland that responded. Their set-piece suddenly seemed wobbly, when out of nowhere Robbie Henshaw led the way. The Irish center picked up a loose ball and beat five or six defenders in a brilliant run to the left. It was only then, on time, that I had the impression that the title should not be won in Paris.
Indeed, any emergency has infiltrated the match. Ireland, in particular, would not be awakened. Their play continued to malfunction. When the last scrum gave the advancing France the advantage of the penalty, they still ran the ball. Ntamack’s chip and rally was sublime and he sent Virimi Vakatawa home for the bonus point. Stockdale’s late score was a desperate response.
No championship for these young French people, therefore, but they will be satisfied with the promise of a future which seems to be able to be loaded with such gongs.