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Ireland win Six Nations after beating France to frustrate England

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: March 15, 2014

Jonny Sexton scores one of his two tries as Ireland beat France in Paris to take the Six Nations crown

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Ireland have won the RBS 6 Nations title after beating France 22-20 in Paris in the final game of the tournament.

Bulldozer Mathieu Bastareaud caused Ireland immediate problems, blasting to the gain line to drag in three defenders.

Chris Henry was then penalised for not releasing, but was left fuming at referee Steve Walsh's call, feeling it was a legitimate turnover.

Maxime Machenaud slotted the routine penalty to hand France the opening points.

Bastareaud shredded Ireland's defence with a clean line break from the next meaningful phase, only to throw a wayward forward pass that let Ireland off the hook.

Thomas Domingo was penalised for dropping the scrum to allow Ireland much-needed respite, but Cian Healy knocked forward from the second of two smart inside balls from Johnny Sexton.

Machenaud doubled France's lead with his second penalty after Damien Chouly forced a turnover with a shuddering hit on Gordon D'Arcy.

Ireland's second scrum penalty brought another punt to the 22 from Sexton.

The visitors rejected the driving maul to play phases through midfield, and the ploy paid dividends when Chris Henry's cute offload offered Sexton half a gap and he cut back inside the cover to register the game's first try.

The former Leinster playmaker scuffed the conversion attempt wide, however, leaving Ireland trailing by one point.

Ireland quickly doubled their try count, though, thanks to another Joe Schmidt-inspired ruse.

The head coach's wily insight has proved a feature of his first Six Nations, and his nous this time led Ireland to force space around the tackle fringes.

Big, lumbering forwards do not enjoy working into defensive position: France stuck to their typecasting, Conor Murray blasted through the gap and sent Andrew Trimble under the sticks.

And it was O'Driscoll's straight and true drive to the gain line that set the ruse in motion.

Big, lumbering forwards love a rolling maul though, and after a textbook drive, Remi Tales chipped to the wing, Yoann Huget tapped inside at full leap and Brice Dulin had the easy run home.

Machenaud's expert touchline conversion wrestled France a 13-12 lead.

Tales tried a snap drop-goal as France built the attack after a loose high bomb from Sexton, but his effort drifted wide.

Prop Nicolas Mas, who spent the early part of the week battling with the French press, departed with a troublesome right arm complaint, replaced by Rabah Slimani.

Ireland pressed again after another penalty line-out, but Sexton missed his second shot at goal of the night.

Sexton started the second-half in the manner he finished the first, his risky chip easily dealt with by Gael Fickou, setting France away on a trademark counter-attack.

Ireland and Sexton had two rescuers to thank for avoiding serious censure: first Rob Kearney swept up Huget's chip in behind then O'Connell won a vital ruck turnover penalty.

Rob Kearney again cleaned up the mess, latching onto a deft boot through the line from the French to clear, after Mike Ross' knock-on.

Sexton quickly scotched those errors and the five missed points from his and Ireland's minds though, racing in for his second and his side's third try of the night.

When Huget failed to hold Bastareaud's pass, it was Ireland launching the counter through Rob Kearney.

Andrew Trimble cut away down the right, feeding O'Driscoll, who had the presence of mind to recycle deep in the France 22.

O'Connell carried on, and Murray sent Sexton under the posts.

In one swoop, suddenly Ireland were once again sure of themselves.

Ireland bullied France with their textbook maul, winning a penalty for Sexton to shoot at goal.

This time there was to be no mistake, the 28-year-old firing home with assurance renewed thanks to try number two, to put Ireland 22-13 to the good.

France battered Ireland's final defences time and again as the hosts launched a sustained assault after a penalty line-out in the 22.

O'Connell conceded a penalty on the try line, and France again punted for the line-out rather than shoot at goal.

Bastareaud thundered into midfield, Louis Picamoles drove to the right-hand post, and hooker Dimitri Szarzewski bundled in.

Referee Steve Walsh awarded the try, but replays suggested the Racing Metro hooker fumbled in the act of scoring.

Machenaud landed the conversion, to cut Ireland's lead to just two points.

Sexton's mixed night took another turn when he was knocked out cold trying to fell Bastareaud. The Toulon battering ram put Sexton in the recovery position before Ireland's medical team carried him from the field by stretcher.

So Ian Madigan was pitched into his first Six Nations action of the season, at the crucial moment.

Heavyweight replacements Alexandre Flanquart and Sebastien Vahaamahina beefed up France's scrum, forcing a penalty as Ireland were rocketed backwards.

Jean-Marc Doussain had the chance to steal the lead from the tee, but could only shoot wide.

Damien Chouly thought he had stolen the game when he nipped into the right corner, but Vincent Debaty's pass was rightly ruled forward.

France stole Ireland's scrum, only for the visitors to win a turnover at the ruck, and spark jubilant celebrations at the final whistle.

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