France outclass Ireland but fall short in Six Nations title bid

PARIS (Reuters) - France produced some brilliant rugby but came up just short in the Six Nations as their 35-27 victory over Ireland was not enough to leapfrog champions England into top spot on Saturday.

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England won the title for the third time in five years after they beat Italy 34-5 in Rome earlier, leaving Les Bleus with the seemingly insurmountable task of winning by at least 31 points to take the crown.

Ireland needed a bonus-point victory or at least a six-point win, and both teams failed at the Stade de France.

England won the tournament, which started in February and was halted in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, on points difference from France after both teams finished on 18 points having won four matches each.

Ireland came third, Scotland fourth, Wales fifth and Italy were bottom of the standings.

France, who started their campaign by beating England, were more efficient, scoring tries through Antoine Dupont, a penalty try, Virimi Vakatawa and Romain Ntamack, who also kicked the rest of the points.

Ireland benefited from France’s ill-discipline in the first half and Cian Healy, Robbie Henshaw and Jacob Stockdale scored their tries with the other points coming from the boot of Johnny Sexton plus a Ross Byrne conversion.

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“There were enough opportunities for us to win but we were not clinical enough. We killed out own momentum at times. We spent time in their 22 but we didn’t come away with the points, it’s as simple as that, really,” Ireland coach Andy Farrell told a news conference.

France, who had not finished second in the championship since 2011 and last won it in 2010, were lethal in the opening half despite enjoying little possession and coughing up eight penalties.

They were once again inspired by scrumhalf Dupont, who formed an impressive trio with flyhalf Ntamack and Gael Fickou, who was shifted to the left wing in the absence of the injured Teddy Thomas.

“Our goal was to start winning matches and winning titles. We’ve got five wins from six games (in 2020) but have failed to claim a title, although we are satisfied,” said coach Fabien Galthie.

Dupont, 23, scored the first try for Les Bleus and set up Ntamack shortly after the restart in another commanding performance.

Vakatawa scored the bonus-point try but two second-half Ireland tries meant the hosts’ biggest advantage never grew above 15 points.

Ireland were in the contest in the first half thanks to France’s ill-discipline but their obsession for a bonus-point win - instead of trying to kick their way to a six-point victory - meant they reached halftime with a four-point deficit having scored only one try.

France were more ruthless after the break although their concentration dropped on two occasions to give the visitors the chance to leave Paris with an honourable defeat.

Reporting by Julien Pretot, Editing by Ed Osmond and Ken Ferris