|Six Nations: Ireland v France|
|Ireland: (19) 26|
|Tries: Best, Sexton, Conan, Earls Cons: Sexton 3|
|France: (0) 14|
|Tries: Huget, Chat Cons: Serin 2|
Ireland reignited their Six Nations title defence with a bonus-point win over a dismal France side in Dublin.
The holders rediscovered the form that had deserted them in the opening rounds of the championship to stay in the title battle ahead of their Cardiff showdown with Grand Slam-seeking Wales.
Captain Rory Best set the tone with an early try while Johnny Sexton, Jack Conan and Keith Earls also crossed.
Yoann Huget and Camille Chat scored late consolation tries for France.
Those scores failed to mask another disappointing French performance but they will hurt Ireland’s points differential going into the final week.
Jacques Brunel’s side travelled to Dublin with renewed confidence from their impressive win against Scotland but they had no answer to Ireland’s combination of power and accuracy.
The only disappointment for head coach Joe Schmidt in his final Six Nations home match was that his side could not convert their dominance into more scores as they remain behind Wales and England in the race for this year’s championship title.
Ireland made six changes to the forward pack that started against Italy in round three, and the return of front-line players such as Best, James Ryan and Iain Henderson had the desired effect.
The green set-piece was utterly dominant and their line-out maul repeatedly earned penalties to keep France trapped inside their own 22 and unable to escape.
Best’s early score was an indication of what was to come as Jordan Larmour’s fiendishly clever kick gave his pack a toehold and the Irish maul did the rest – dragging their captain over at the second opportunity.
France almost responded but Damien Penaud was called back for knocking-on while trying to catch a crossfield kick, and the ball barely left French territory for the rest of the opening half.
Bonus point the target
Ireland repeatedly turned down kickable penalties as they hunted down a bonus point and their unrelenting pressure was eventually rewarded.
Another dominant line-out gave Sexton the space for a loop around Ringrose and the Irish fly-half skated through a ragged defensive line for an excellent try.
Cian Healy and Ringrose both had tries disallowed either side of that Sexton score, but Ireland were undaunted as they showcased their open-play attack to get a third try before the break.
Ringrose and then Sexton cleverly switched back against the grain before Tadhg Furlong bolted through a gap and Conan muscled through two tacklers to apply the finish.
Schmidt’s Six Nations finale
Schmidt will sign off as a Six Nations head coach by trying to deny Wales a Grand Slam next week, but he will be most relieved by his side’s timely return to form.
The bonus-point score arrived through a trademark Schmidt move as Earls peeled off the front of a line-out before bursting into life when CJ Stander broke free from a maul and delivered a clever inside pass for his Munster team-mate to storm over in the 56th minute.
Schmidt responded by replacing Sexton, Best, Furlong, Henderson and Conor Murray with more than one eye towards the trip to Cardiff next week, but it also robbed the team of crucial momentum.
A series of scrums on the French line produced a yellow card for Dorian Aldegheri but failed to earn another score, and it was the visitors that finished on the front foot.
Huget profited from a galloping break by Gregory Allritt before Chat was bundled over in stoppage time to put a gloss on the final score.
Ireland and Schmidt will not care as they roll on towards Cardiff.
|Final round of fixtures: Saturday, 16 March (all times GMT)|
|12:30||Italy v France||Live scores|
|14:45||Wales v Ireland||Watch on BBC One & listen on BBC Radio 5 Live|
|17:00||England v Scotland||Listen on BBC Radio 5 Live|
Man of the match – Garry Ringrose
The Leinster man was outstanding in attack – setting-up Sexton for his score and nearly crossing for another – and tigerish in defence as Ireland rediscovered their best form.
Ireland: Larmour, Earls, Ringrose, Aki, Stockdale; Sexton, Murray; Healy, Best (capt), Furlong, Henderson, Ryan, O’Mahony, Van der Flier, Stander.
Replacements: Scannell (for Best, 57), Kilcoyne (for Healy, 50), Ryan (for Furlong, 57), Dillane (for Henderson, 57), Conan (for Van der Flier, 24), Cooney (for Murray, 56), Carty (for Sexton, 57), Conway (for Earls, 75).
France: Ramos, Penaud, Bastareaud, Fickou, Huget; Ntamack, Dupont; Poirot, Guirado (capt), Bamba, Vahaamahina, Lambey, Lauret, Iturria, Picamoles.
Replacements: Chat (for Guirado, 71), Falgoux (for Poirot, 16), Aldegheri (for Bamba, 62), Willemse (for Lambey, 62), Alldritt (for Lauret, 11), Serin (for Dupont, 71), Belleau (for Ntamack, 75), Medard (for Ramos, 62).
Sin-bin: Aldegheri (68).