66 mins. Ireland are looking very comfortable, with good rhythm to their attack around halfway. Le Garrec is on at scrum half and manages to nick the ball at a ruck, but it’s only brief respite for Les Bleus
Some will make a point about the Willemse card stymying the home side, but France were a long way short before that happened and this has continued for the most part when it’s been fourteen players each.
Speaking of which, O’Mahony is back on.
62 mins. McCarthy takes the ball in the lineout and an immediate maul drive commences that twists and turns the Frech pack before Sheehan breaks off to ground it.
Crowley nails another outstanding kick from way out left.
60 mins. Ireland are back in a dominant position in the French half. They have a penalty advantage in the 22, with Crowley calling for the ball but Alldritt gets among the ruck to frustrate the attack.
The ball is put in the corner and the visitors will come again.
Subs have happened for France
Posolo Tuilagi, Reda Wardi ,Dorian Aldegheri and Julien Marchand are on for Paul Gabrillagues, Cyril Baille , Uini Atonio and Peato Mauvaka
56 mins. France were holding up their end of the scrum when they were mismatched, but now the packs are balanced – with Danty added to the flank! – the blue eight marmalise the Irish pack through Andrew Porter’s side.
The home side will have a lineout on halfway.
After all that, Ref Dickson dispatches the Ireland captain to the bin for his blatant maul collapse some time ago.
54 mins. Undeterred, France catch and drive a lineout on the Irish 5m line which is moving towards the line before it’s collapsed illegally by Peter O’Mahony. On the advantage Gabrillagues drives to the line, reaching the ball far enough to kiss the whitewash, which is all that’s needed
The ref has given it on the pitch, so there will have to be compelling evidence to overturn it, which Ben Whitehouse the Replay Sauron cannot find!
Ramos bends the conversion over. Game possibly on!
50 mins. Some busy possession from France around halfway, but it’s a little shapeless and it allows Doris to put in a huge counter-ruck at a loosely marshalled breakdown.
Fickou can’t gather a flying catch attempt, but the reason was that Crowley was messing with him in the air. Jalibert kicks a terrible touch about 10 metres from where he started, but France will have an attack in the Ireland half at least.
46 mins. O’Mahony claims a towering take in and Irish lineout on France’s 22. There’s no rolling maul this time but they work the phases up into double figures, patiently moving the blue defence around for Henshaw to straighten and two passes later Nash is over in the left corner for a debut try.
Crowley nails a fabulous touchline conversion.
42 mins. France grab their first lineout of the half and get a full rumble on in the maul which McCarthy moves through illegally. It’s 40 metres out, but that doesn’t put Ramos off and he’s very close to nailing it, unfortunately the ball drifts right.
Jalibert puts his pied through the ball to resume the match. Doris fields it and Gibson-Park kicks clear.
Make no mistake France were bobbins for 90% of that half and it took the world’s daftest double offence dismissal to inject some energy into them. Ireland were solidly on top physically and tactically, but as soon as France decided to start taking things seriously the cracks in the green wall opened with worrying ease.
It remains advantage to Ireland, but this is far from over – something both coaches will be emphasising right now.
Some key questions from Andy Bradshaw
“Have the French players stopped listening to Edwards? Has Farrell worked out how to beat an Edward’s defence? “How many French player’s family members will Edwards need to feed into the wood chipper at half-time for them to start remembering how to defend?”
40 mins. PEEEEP! The conversion is the last act of the half
39 mins. Ireland are under pressure again, and it’s worrying that they give away another penalty as the hammer comes down. Mauvaka taps and goes and is held up just short, which means Lucu can move it left through hands for Penaud to score.
38 mins. Hang on a second though, the compromised French scrum manages to win a penalty for the home side to have another go at the Irish 5m line. On an advantage for offside the blue shirts are pummelling the green defence before a huge tackle from Keenan causes Penaud to spill the ball. The ball is put in the corner once more
35 mins. The rare flash of positivity that is this France attack is extinguished as Beirne gets up ahead of Ollivon to nick a 5m attacking lineout. Gibson-Park clears with a kick to touch.
33 mins. The red appears to have woken France up a bit as their tempo immediately improves as well as the (legal) aggression. They win a penalty in the ruck and are into the Ireland 22 via the boot of Jalibert.
31 mins. Willemse has clearly had enough of this poor performance and so ejects himself from the game as he is too high as the second man in the tackle once again, clacking an Irish head with his shoulder. He and France can have no arguments.
Unless they are arguing about the stupidest cards ever, that is.
29 mins. That penalty was a small interlude in the usual running of the game which is Ireland dominating, particularly in the carry as they continue to bounce France off all over the park. After a big Doris drive Crowley pops a short ball to Beirne on the angle, that bamboozles Danty in defence and the blue bonneted lock races over to score.
Crowley adds the extra two.
26 mins. One thing that is going OK for France is the scrum and a penalty won there 40 metres out is calmly hammered over by Ramos.
I’ll do my best, Nicola!
23 mins. The new man tees it up. It’s in line with the right hand post and not too far out but he pushes even further right to miss. They are the ones you have to get a this level.
22 mins. From a scrum on the French 22, Gibson-Park takes the ball up the short-side to feed Crowley who steps inside to move up to the 5m line. The forwards force over the France line, but the ball is held up.
However, Les Bleus were offside again.
19 mins. Willemse is out of the bin and joins his team in time to see Beirne charge down an attempted Lucu box kick. Ireland pounce on the ball and move it left where the ball is agonisingly fumbled by Henshaw when a try looked on.
The crowd are now utterly silent, save for a few muttered swears (probably)
17 mins. Amid all that, the decision is made that Willemse’s card will remain yellow, the deciding factor being Porter dropping in height in the tackle.
That’s some good news for France, which they need as they have been utter dreck so far.
16 mins. A kick blootered forward by Lowe is this close to rolling dead, but stops short to force Ramos to play it and boot clear. Advantage Ireland.
From the restart the men in green move it quickly right and Aki straightens to get in behind the French line before he offloads to his scrum-half to score.
14 mins. France win their first penalty of the game after Beirne ignores the ref imploring him to not use his hands in a ruck. The lineout is won tidily on the Irish 10m line, but the attack fizzles out as Jalibert’s kick is easily marked by Lowe.
10 mins. Apart from the little spurt up the right earlier, the opening has belonged entirely to Ireland, and the latest example of this is Lucu slicing a left foot clearance just about to his own 22.
8 mins. Ben Whitehouse in the TMO shack calls for ref Dickson to have a look at Willemse driving his shoulder into Andrew Porter’s head in the tackle. It’s pretty obvious, and the ref dispatches him; France are down to 14 while the bunker reviews whether it should be a red.
7 mins. It’s an easy opportunity and Crowley makes it so from the tee.
6 mins. Mauvaka is caught offside at a ruck, wide left ten metres inside the French half. Crowley puts it in the corner as O’Mahony shows some early ambition with his captaincy.
The ball is pulled into a maul from the lineout, but the roll can’t get, er, rolling and so Crowley calls it for the backs to have a go. A few phases later France have at least two people offside in the line.
3 mins. France receive the ball and calm it down quickly, allowing Lucu to settle his replacement nerves by booming a decent clearing kick up to near halfway. A tidy lineout from Ireland follows but the it comes to nought and Les Bleus pounce, moving the ball right through hands to Penaud to be forced into touch by Lowe.
Jack Crowley kicks long as the game and tournament heaves into life
A Bontempi organ backing track just about holds Ireland’s Call together before an a capella La Marseille blows the sodding roof off.
The teams are on their way out of the tunnel into a flashing tumult of noise of pyrotechnics. The Marseille lads and lasses in the crowd are absolutely pumped for this one.
“You can’t really expect to slip in a Billy Joel reference without risking this sort of backlash,” says Scott Blair. “Ahem: Tadgh Furlongest Time.”
Outstanding. Keep them coming.
ITV have just done some pre-match interviews and it’s the Wigan one-two punch as Andy Farrell and Shaun Edwards chat about what’s to come. As someone from the same geography, it still feels so very strange that they are leading lights in rugby union.
Absolutely deserve it, mind.
Officials for this evening, for those who like to know exactly what illegality will be ignored in this particular match
Referee: Karl Dickson (Eng)
Assistant Referees: Matthew Carley (Eng) & Jordan Way (Aus)
Television Match Official: Ben Whitehouse (Wal)
Have a gander at what our other writers (the ones whose opinions can be trusted) predict for the tournament this year
Fabien Galthie swaps his all Toulouse halfbacks for the all Bordeaux pairing of Maxim Lucu and Mathieu Jalibert, while Yoram Moefana is given a wing berth. In the forwards, Paul Willemse returns after missing the World Cup, Uini Atonio is unretired, and Francois Cros joins Charles Ollivon and new captain Gregory Alldritt in the back row.
Andy Farrell has finally bestowed non-placeholder status on Jack Crowley who is first choice at stand-off now Sexton has vacated. The backs also have Robbie Henshaw back in for the injured Ringrose at outside centre, and there’s a debut for Calvin Nash on the wing. Peter O’Mahoney captains the side from flanker with James Ryan giving way to the promising Joe McCarthy
Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television in the second row.
FRANCE Thomas Ramos; Damian Penaud, Gaël Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Yoram Moefana; Matthieu Jalibert, Maxime Lucu; Cyril Baille, Peato Mauvaka, Uini Atonio, Paul Gabrillagues, Paul Willemse, François Cros, Charles Ollivon, Grégory Alldritt (capt).
Replacements: 16 Julien Marchand, 17 Reda Wardi, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Posolo Tuilagi, 20 Cameron Woki, 21 Paul Boudehent, 22 Nolann le Garrec, 23 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 (capt), Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.
Replacements 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 James Ryan, 20 Ryan Baird, 21 Jack Conan, 22 Conor Murray, 23 Ciaran Frawley.
Paris Marseille as we kick off the 2024 Six Nations Championship with a Friday night humdinger.
Loss is a difficult thing, but some say it’s not the most terrible thing you can experience as it means you had something truly special to begin with. Indeed, it has been posited that knowing that this can’t go on forever is the very thing that compels such strong feelings and effort in a relationship.
Whatever the truth of it, these two sides have known some loss recently.
Ireland have bade farewell for the last time to their captain and fulcrum of the last decade, Johnny Sexton, who headed into retirement to do elaborate, beautifully timed runarounds with his kids and to fume at everyone around him in a non rugby context. France for their part are without their cubic marvel, Antoine Dupont, while he attempts to wash the World Cup loss off by hopefully plunging into the sweet scented waters of an Olympic Sevens win sur mon sol. Romain Ntamack is not here either, for the far more mundane reason of being injured.
What to expect, then, with both teams featuring some percentage of a new pivot partnership as well as new captains? This game last year settled early that Ireland were on for the grand slam that came their way in March, but any such result here will unlikely harbour such a definitive portent.
Both teams will benefit from the enforced departure from the Stade de France, meaning they can enter the fray today in a different arena to the one in which their souls were splintered into a thousand pieces not too many months ago.
Neither coach will wish to revisit something even vaguely akin to that trauma in a few hours; each will feel they’ve already lost enough.