France 35-27 Ireland: England win Six Nations despite hosts sealing bonus-point win

By Michael MorrowBBC Sport NI
Guinness Six Nations: France v Ireland
France: (17) 35
Tries: Dupont, penalty try, Ntamack, Vakatawa Con: Ntamack 2 Pens: Ntamack 3
Ireland: (13) 27
Tries: Healy, Henshaw, Stockdale Cons: Sexton 2, R Byrne Pens: Sexton 2

England have been crowned Six Nations champions after France recorded a 35-27 win over Ireland in Paris.

Despite the bonus-point win, the margin of victory was not enough for Fabien Galthie's side to overtake England, who take the honours courtesy of their superior points difference.

Antoine Dupont and a first-half penalty try helped France grab the ascendancy before further scores from Romaine Ntamack and Virimi Vakatawa saw them threaten to challenge England's top spot.

As for Ireland, whose tries came from from Cian Healy, Robbie Henshaw and Jacob Stockdale, it was a disappointing finale having come into the game knowing a win by seven points or more would have seen them take home the title.

An even first half looked to have set up an intriguing final 40 minutes of the tournament with Ireland's winning scenario seemingly more likely than France's.

However, the nail-biting finish failed to materialise as France, aided by a misfiring Irish set-piece, controlled the second half without ever extending their lead to the required margin.

End-to-end first half provides Irish hope

While England's 34-5 win over Italy earlier on Saturday put them in pole position for the title, it was not the lopsided score Ireland had feared, and left Andy Farrell's men requiring a seven-point win to clinch the championship.

It was a target that required precise game management, and would rely as much on Ireland's ability to stop a French attack that has provided some blistering displays in 2020.

While the Irish line-speed kept France in check for much of the first half, Dupont's seventh-minute try came off a clinical exploitation of a rare error in Ireland's defensive set-up.

With prop Andrew Porter at the far end of Ireland's defensive line, France quickly worked the ball left to Gael Fickou who took advantage of the pace mismatch to surge between Porter and the touchline before finding Dupont infield to put France ahead.

Unflustered, Ireland quickly worked their way into France's territory and soon found themselves with a numerical advantage as Anthony Bouthier was sent to the sin-bin for deliberately slapping Sexton's grubber kick out of touch on the tryline.

Healy duly marked the occasion of his 100th cap by driving over before a Sexton penalty nudged the visitors in front for the first time.

Cian Healy
Prop Healy celebrated his 100th cap with Ireland's opening try

It had been a largely satisfactory showing for Ireland until the half hour mark, when Jacob Stockdale's knock on saw Francois Cros kick towards the tryline with the French flanker favourite to reach the ball first only to be brought down by opposite number Caelan Doris.

The attempt to salvage the situation only brought about a double whammy, as a penalty try was awarded with Doris sent to the sin-bin for the cynical foul.

Still, with the clock approaching the red Ireland had a chance to kick an easy penalty that would have reduced the arrears to a point, and put them within a converted try of their required victory margin.

Instead, Sexton opted to go for the corner and France held firm on their line as Ireland saw a precious points opportunity go begging.

France continue resurgence under Galthie

While no doubt pleased to have ended on a high note, France will reflect on what could have been in this year's championship, and their minds will cast back to Mohamed Haouas' first-half red card against Scotland in March.

Without a Six Nations title since 2010, France have arguably been the form side of this year's prolonged tournament, beating England, Ireland and Wales in style but still falling short ultimately due to that loss at Murrayfield.

On the whole however, it has been a positive tournament for Galthie's men, who were clinical in a controlled second half on Saturday night.

They stretched their lead four minutes after the restart, with Dupont collecting Fickou's chip through to tee up his Toulouse partner Ntamack.

After another Ntamack penalty, France held a lead of 14 and with the momentum in their favour, for a moment the required 32 point margin did not seem so farfetched.

It was however only a momentary consideration, as Henshaw put Ireland back in the game with a wonderful solo try, showing pace and power to run back against the grain to touch down in the corner.

By the time Vakatawa crossed for the bonus-point score on 71 minutes, time was against both sides and England's championship was as good as assured. Stockdale's try with the last minute of the game did not change the table standings or the outcome of the game.

France: Bouthier; Rattez, Vakatawa, Vincent, Fickou; Ntamack, Dupont; Baille, Marchant, Haouas, le Roux, Willemse; Cros, Ollivon (capt), Alldritt.

Replacements: Chat, Gros, Bamba, Taofifenua, Cretin, Serin, Retiere, Ramos.

Ireland: Stockdale; Conway, Henshaw, Aki, Keenan; Sexton (capt), Murray; Healy, Herring, Porter; Beirne, Ryan; Doris, Connors, Stander.

Replacements: Heffernan, E Byrne, Bealham, Dillane, O'Mahony, Gibson-Park, R Byrne, Farrell.

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