Jamison Gibson-Park, Tadhg Beirne, Calvin Nash, Dan Sheehan, Ronan Kelleher scored tries as Ireland win big vs France on opening Six Nations Friday at Stade Velodrome in Marseille; Jack Crowley kicked all five conversions and penalty; France’s Paul Willemse red carded for two yellows.
Ireland began life in the post-Johnny Sexton era in ideal fashion, as a terrific Six Nations performance saw them to a bonus-point 38-17 victory over France in Marseille.
Scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park, lock Tadhg Beirne, wing Calvin Nash, hooker Dan Sheehan and replacement hooker Ronan Kelleher scored tries at the Stade Velodrome against a French side who saw lock Paul Willemse shown a red card during the first half for two yellows – both high tackles.
Ireland fly-half Jack Crowley, 24, started nervously but grew in confidence and into the contest, kicking one penalty and five exquisite conversions, while also producing a gorgeous try assist for Beirne in a record points total and winning margin for Ireland in France.
France 17-38 Ireland – Score summary
Ireland – Tries: Gibson-Park (16), Beirne (30), Nash (46), Sheehan (62), Kelleher (78). Cons: Crowley (18, 31, 47, 63, 79). Pens: Crowley (7).
France – Tries: Penaud (40), Gabrillagues (53). Cons: Ramos (42, 53). Pens: Ramos (27).
Damian Penaud and lock Paul Gabrillagues scored France’s tries, who continued to fight hard and never appeared truly out of it – Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony was sin-binned in the second half with the gap seven points – but they ultimately had to swallow a home defeat.
For many in the sport, France vs Ireland was the Rugby World Cup final that never was back in October’s Paris showpiece, and although the hosts carved out the first threatening attack, Ireland were far the quicker to settle into their groove.
Crowley edged Ireland into an early lead with a close-range penalty, and after Willemse collected his first yellow for a high hit to the head of Andrew Porter, the visitors notched the opening try.
Centre Bundee Aki did magnificently for it, charging forward and freeing his hands to offload for Gibson-Park to sprint in.
A huge try chance was spurned by Ireland after Beirne charged down Antoine Dupont’s replacement Maxime Lucu to win a turnover just after a France maul – Crowley and Aki playing narrow when a wide ball would have resulted in a certain try down the left.
Within moments, Crowley missed poorly off the tee for the chance to go 13-0, with Thomas Ramos then striking at the other end after a scrum penalty.
Perhaps illustrating a measure of his mentality, Crowley brushed off a tough few minutes to play Beirne in for Ireland’s second try via an exquisitely disguised short-ball.
Crowley then converted for 17-3, with Willemse – only recently back on – then shown his second yellow, which was upgraded to a straight red following a bunker review, after connecting with the head of Caelan Doris in Ireland’s first carry following the restart.
Back-to-back penalties at the ruck against Ireland invited France forward, however, and though Beirne stole a lineout, a costly scrum penalty against the head eventually resulted in Penaud diving over as French persistence in kicking to the corner was rewarded seconds before the break.
After Ramos uncharacteristically dragged a penalty wide, Ireland scored through Nash after they sprung the play wide and Robbie Henshaw had stepped, accelerated and offloaded brilliantly for Doris to find the championship debutant.
Crowley produced a sensational conversion off the touchline for 24-10, but France were back within a score seven minutes later, after a long TMO review saw Gabrillagues awarded a try and O’Mahony sin-binned for a cynical act in attempting to deny him.
Ireland composed themselves to get back up the other end, though, and after the brave decision to kick to the corner instead of for points, Sheehan flew over the try-line from a maul for their fourth.
There remained time for one last try, and it was almost identical to Sheehan’s as Kelleher controlled possession at the back of a maul which romped over.
Fittingly, the boot of Crowley was the final scoring act via the extras.
Farrell: A special Irish victory | O’Mahony: I’m proud – the young players a big part
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell to ITV Sport…
“Any victory here, on a Friday night to start the Six Nations off is always going to be a hard task but I think coming away with a bonus-point win is special.
“I was proud of the performance because we kept on playing for the full 80 minutes and we got what we deserved in the end.
“When you play against 14 men, the tendency is sometimes to shut up shop but we kept on playing.
“These are guys that have been in around the squad for the past couple of years so we had no doubt they are ready to play.
“Some of them, their form guarantees they are going to be in. But it is a 23-man game.”
Ireland captain O’Mahony to ITV Sport…
“It is hard to sum up. It was a serious Test match.
“I am very proud of the lads for the control of the game. We were cool, composed, might have been a bit frantic in the last 10 minutes down to 14, but we stayed to the plan the whole time.
“We didn’t get carried away with positive and negative moments and I thought it was a good start.
“I think a big chunk of the performance was the young fellas, Calvin Nash, Jack Crowley, big Joe [McCarthy]. Some big, big performances from guys getting an opportunity.”