Fabulous France end Irish dream
As a method of settling an argument or three, it doesn't get much more convincing.
Grand Slam decider. Title showdown. A settling of soccer scores. This match was billed as many things, but by the end, all debates were off. France undeniably won the lot.
Valentine's weekend in Paris is traditionally a time for romance, for roses and chocolates and declarations of undying devotion. Someone should have told the players and supporters.
There was no love to be lost at a frozen Stade de France. It was passionate alright - the atmosphere and performances made hearts pound and scalps tingle - but this was hammer as much as amour, tenderising rather than tender.
Cliché has it that these two nations are united by a fondness for the romantic, for the poetic ahead of the practical. In the chill gloaming of a bitter February evening, when a Grand Slam is up for grabs and glory is there to be grasped, you could forgive either for preferring the prosaic instead.
Not France. This was irresistible rugby, an irrepressible blend of bulldozer and ballet. Ireland, for all their hopes, for all their 15-month unbeaten run and dreams of unprecedented consecutive Slams, were powerless to resist.
Morgan Parra had been critical of Ireland ahead of the match. Photo: Getty
Ireland had begun with fire and fury, pinching line-outs with light-fingered larceny and steaming into rucks with relish. Before France had found their feet, Gordon D'Arcy nearly stole the lead, producing a wonderful snapping break and kick ahead, a green streak slicing through the thin blue line.
Had the ball bounced kindly enough for his side to touch down, it might have been a different match. Instead, France took control as Irish errors and indiscipline left them impotent and frustrated.
Those who thought the Gallic and Gaelic might kiss and make up after the acrimonious fall-out from their last meeting in St Denis were in for a rude shock. Memories of the Henry horreur were still fresh in the memory; if we joked at kick-off that there would be massed appeals from the travelling fans for handball as soon as a Frenchman touched it, the laughter ended there.
Some saw an omen in the wintry weather. Revenge, after all, is a dish best served cold. In the frozen steppes of the stands, chants of "IRELAND! IRELAND!" battled against the air-horns and "Allez Les Bleus". Down on the pitch, however, France were scorching pretty patterns all around.
Francois Trinh-Duc was at the heart of everything, utterly in control. His distribution was near-perfect - witness the long pass that put Yannick Jauzion in for France's second try - his running silky and scything. His partner at half-back, Morgan Parra, was almost as impressive - kicking with dead-eyed accuracy, passing flat and fast, sniping and scragging around the fringes.
In front of them, the back row of Dusautoir, Ouedraogo and Harinordoquy dominated their opposite numbers. Skipper Dusautoir almost drove Ronan O'Gara into the ground; Harinordoquy continued where he had left off last week against Scotland.
Outside them, it was all about Mathieu Bastareaud. We knew he could bash and bullock, but on his club side's home turf he showed a deftness of hand that, in combination with his immense physical gifts, confirms the arrival of a major new talent. The last time Ireland won in Paris, Brian O'Driscoll used the occasion to announce his brilliance to the world. Ten years on, it was the turn of another 21-year-old centre to do the same.
What will hurt O'Driscoll and his team most is that they were, in part, architects in their own downfall.
What was it Parra had said about the Irish in the build-up? "They are cheating, but intelligently cheating. It's very well done." He was proved wrong, but not in the manner Ireland had wanted.
There was nothing intelligent or well done about the foul play from Cian Healy or Jerry Flannery. Healy's yellow card helped shift the impetus to the hosts. That Flannery's horrible kick at Alexis Palisson did not lead to a straight red is something that only referee Wayne Barnes can explain. It didn't so much stuff Parra's words back down his throat as serve them up with a garnish.
Ireland fans endured a tough afternoon after a good start at the Stade de France. Photo: PA
It was a night for cold hands, of course it was, but Ireland's buttery fingers put the slide under any chance they had of staging a grandstanding recovery. Off-load after off-load fell to the floor; knock-on followed knock-on with spirit-sapping regularity.
The post-match stats showed 19 Irish errors to France's 10. More than a quarter of the tourists' possession ended in an unforced mistake. Keith Earls summed it all up midway through the second half when, after doing the hard work of taking a steepling up-and-under, he then spilt the stationary ball as he tried to take a quick tap.
Ireland made twice as many passes as France - a staggering 184 to the hosts' 91. France were also forced into almost twice as many tackles, 111 to Ireland's 67. Big numbers, but not the all-important ones.
There were green-shirted glimmers. In addition to D'Arcy's early break, Ireland spent the last three minutes of the first half camped on the French try line. Drive after drive took them closer and closer, but unlike against England and Wales last season there was no one-inch try for O'Driscoll, and half-time came at 17-3 rather than 17-10.
Be in it at the break, Keith Wood had said this week, and you have a chance in Paris. His point was proven, but not in Ireland's favour.
There was time for David Wallace to dive over after an initial break from the old hand O'Driscoll. At 27-10 with 16 minutes to go, Irish optimism briefly flared, but Parra's penalty and Frederic Michalak's insouciant long-range dropper soon snuffed it out.
So Declan Kidney has at last lost a Six Nations match, at the seventh time of asking. Like the last Grand Slam winning coach, Warren Gatland, his winning run came to an end on French shores. It's still only two wins in Paris for Ireland since 1952.
He shouldn't be too disheartened - there's not many who could live with Marc Lievremont's men in this sort of mood. Snow was in the air, ice around the pitch, yet they produced a display to warm the cockles and muscles.
Along with the wonderful match earlier in the day in Cardiff, France's exhibition at last gave neutral fans of the old game something to smile about. When the French play like this, the world of rugby is a better place to be.
There were times in the autumn when the idea of rugby as a crowd-pleasing spectacle seemed to have died. It's heartening to see that there might just be life in the old patient yet.
Will France now go on to seal a first Grand Slam since 2004? It won't be as easy as their post-match lap of honour might have made it appear, but the biggest barrier has been cleared. The stage is theirs for the taking.