Determined Ireland continue to impress after victory over France

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Ireland propelled themselves into pole position for Guinness Six Nations glory with a gripping 32-19 bonus-point victory over reigning Grand Slam champions France in Dublin.

Tries from Hugo Keenan, James Lowe, Andrew Porter and Garry Ringrose helped the Irish register a record 13th successive home victory to keep them at the top of the world rankings ahead of Les Bleus.

Damian Penaud’s sensational score plus 14 points from the boot of full-back Thomas Ramos ensured the visitors remained in contention for most of a tense encounter at a raucous Aviva Stadium.

Ireland v France – Guinness Six Nations – Aviva Stadium
Ireland’s Hugo Keenan on his way to scoring his side’s first try against France (Brian Lawless, PA)

Andy Farrell has now beaten each of rugby’s major nations as Ireland head coach, with fly-halves Johnny Sexton and Ross Byrne contributing seven and five points respectively on another landmark day in the team’s recent history.

His side go into a two-week break in the tournament ahead of a trip to Italy with maximum points, having begun with last week’s bonus-point dismantling of Wales.

Scores of fans were desperately seeking spare tickets ahead of kick-off, underlining the significance of the first time the world’s top two countries had met in a Six Nations fixture.

Ireland v France – Guinness Six Nations – Aviva Stadium
Tickets were at a premium for Ireland fans (Brian Lawless, PA)

This year’s World Cup hosts were on the back foot for large parts of a breathless and bruising first-half of rugby which ebbed and flowed.

A pair of Ramos penalties kept them in contention in the early stages, coming either side of Keenan racing clear to claim the opening try courtesy of a fine Finlay Bealham offload.

The lively capacity crowd contained a sizeable French contingent and they were soon saluting a stunning breakaway score from Penaud.

The Clermont wing collected the ball deep inside his own 22, burst clear to exchange passes with flanker Anthony Jelonch, before holding off Conor Murray and Mack Hansen to complete a sensational diagonal dart to the left corner.

The helter-skelter action continued and home fans erupted minutes later when a lengthy review concluded Lowe had grounded the ball with an outrageous dive for the left corner before Penaud could propel him into touch.

Momentum was well and truly with Ireland when prop Porter marked his 50th Test cap by bulldozing his country’s third try of the afternoon, just after France tighthead Uini Atonio was sin-binned for a high tackle which forced Ireland hooker Rob Herring off for a head injury assessment from which he did not return.

But the hosts could not fully capitalise on their temporary numerical advantage.

Gael Fickou and Antoine Dupont denied Keenan and Hansen what appeared to be a certain score, leaving the home side just 22-16 ahead at the interval after Ramos and Sexton exchanged penalties.

Ireland v France – Guinness Six Nations – Aviva Stadium
Ireland’s Garry Ringrose scored the vital fourth try

Ramos missed a long-range kick for the posts, while Ireland’s dogged defence eased mounting pressure by forcing a turnover close to their own try-line.

Byrne, on for influential captain Sexton, briefly stretched Ireland’s lead before Ramos quickly reduced his side’s deficit back to six points with a drop goal to leave a pulsating encounter delicately poised.

But French resistance was fatally broken nine minutes from time when Ringrose wriggled through three French tackles on the left to dot down at the end of sustained pressure.

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