France beat Ireland 30-24 in Paris on Saturday to cement their status as favorites to win this year’s Six Nations title.
Antoine Dupont and Cyril Bale crossed the hosts in a thrilling match to continue their lead at the top of the standings in the tournament that the French last won in 2010.
They are three points ahead of Ireland in the standings, and are now the only team capable of winning the Grand Slams.
“It was difficult,” France coach Fabien Galthe said. “We had a tough competition as a teak opponent, even if it didn’t surprise us. It’s a beautiful victory.”
The match had been a sell-out since last fall, and the atmosphere in Paris pre-matched with tricolor flags distributed among the 79,115 fans in the crowd.
Ireland were without captain Johnny Sexton due to a hamstring strain and replaced the 36-year-old with Joey Carberry, to start his first Six Nations Championship after coming off the bench in victory over Wales last weekend.
Galthey also made his debut for 21-year-old midfielder Yoram Movana, replacing Jonathan Dante with the La Rochelle midfielder picking up an ankle injury in the win over Italy on Sunday.
“We are very disappointed,” Ireland captain James Ryan said.
“It gave them momentum in the first half. We showed some courage in the second half but we ended up chasing the match a little bit.”
The rowdy atmosphere in the stands was repeated on the pitch as the hosts took the lead after just 80 seconds when captain Dupont slipped after a break from partner full back Roman Ntamak.
Full-back Melvin Jaminette scored a penalty to make it 10-0 within three minutes.
The guest audience had something to rejoice seconds later when Mac Hansen, who debuted last weekend, discovered Carbery’s reboot to cross over with Jaminette and winger Damien Benaud.
France dominated the rest of the half as Jamenet easily netted three penalties to make the score 19-7, while Ireland was pinned eight times by referee Angus Gardner during the first half, compared to just one last Saturday in Dublin.
Jaminet cemented his side’s lead three minutes into the first half with a shot on target to make it 22-7 before Andy Farrell’s visitors showed their promise from last weekend with two swift goals.
First, winger Josh van der Flier slipped through with a stinging blow before Jamison Gibson-Park turned into a hemisphere.
Dupont’s simple conversion helped Carbery at 22-21 to set up a sparkling final half hour.
Les Bleus, host of next year’s Rugby World Cup, responded aggressively five minutes later with the Baille prop crashing from short distance after a Dupont pass for only his second attempt in 33 Tests with a 27-21 score.
DuPont World Player of the Year was tactically substituted with 10 minutes left for Maxime Lucu before locking in Ryan, who was standing in Sexton as captain, signaled Carbery to kick the stick instead of the corner.
Half of Munster’s fly scored the penalty to make it a three-point game with less than seven minutes to play.
Galthie’s men advanced to 22 in Ireland in one-pass stages before capping Jaminet with an impressive personal and team performance using a simple three-pointer to mark the title.