Rugby: Defending champions Ireland dispatch France in Six Nations opener at Marseille

James Lowe celebrates an Ireland try against France.
James Lowe celebrates an Ireland try against France. Photo credit: Getty Images

Holders Ireland are off to a perfect start in the Six Nations, as they punished a woeful France 38-17, running in five tries at Marsailles, after 'Les Bleus' were reduced to 14 men in the first half.

Ireland already held a commanding lead, when lock Paul Willemse, back with France after missing the Rugby World Cup with injury, was sent off, after his second high hit of the night around the half hour mark.

They prevailed with tries by Jamison Gibson-Park, Tadhg Beirne, Calvin Nash, Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher, and points from the boot of Jack Crowley.

France scored tries through Damian Penaud and Paul Gabrillagues, while Thomas Ramos kicked seven points in a worrying defensive display by Fabien Galthie's side.

In a test between two sides whose high World Cup hopes were crushed in cruel fashion in the quarter-finals last October, Ireland showed they clearly have recovered better.

France were without mercurial scrumhalf Antoine Dupont, who ha switched to rugby sevens for the Paris Olympics, but his absence could not justify their mediocre performance.

"First and foremost, it's won up front and our lineout, in particular, was world class today," said Ireland coach Andy Farrell. "It wasn't just the attacking lineout, it was the defensive lineout. 

"It's a good start. We have Italy next and getting off to a good start was always going to be a tough ask here.

"We've done that now, so we need to grow off the back of it."

France coach Fabien Galthie says it was "tough for the players" and the squad needed to "protect themselves".

"We wasted a lot, we lacked speed," he said. "We had prepared to put a lot of intensity into the game.

"We need to do better, offensively and defensively."

Biggest win

The result was Ireland's highest score against France and their biggest win on French soil.

"We're very happy," said Man of the Match Joe McCarthy. "It's never easy to win away in France.

"We didn't probably expect to get such a high score, but we're really happy. The atmosphere was absolutely mental, so everyone dug in and it was a fantastic team performance."

Taking over from the retired Johnny Sexton, Crowley slotted the first penalty early, as Ireland claimed the upper hand, with Willemse sinbinned for a shoulder on prop Andrew Porter.

Ireland made the most of the opportunity, as Bundee Aki bulldozed through the defence to set up Gibson-Park for the first try. A second came when Beirne ghosted Jonathan Danty to touch down between the posts.

Willemse was then sent off for another high hit, on Caelan Doris this time, as the night went from bad to worse for the hosts.

The unpredictable French pulled a try back through Penaud, who dived over for the 36th time with Les Bleus, moving two shy of France's all-time record by Serge Blanco.

France reflect on defeat, as Ireland celebrate.
France reflect on defeat, as Ireland celebrate. Photo credit: Getty Images

Ireland were ruthless early in the second half, as Nash touched down in the left corner, after some heavy work by the Irish forwards.

A pivotal moment came in the 53rd minute, when Gabrillagues was awarded a try after a lengthy review and Peter O'Mahony was handed a yellow card for a high hit. Ireland were unfazed, as Sheehan added a fourth for the visitors and Crowley converted to restore a 14-point lead.

France wasted an opportunity to halve the deficit and Ireland went on to secure a no-nonsense victory, with Kelleher rubbing salt on France's wounds with a late try.

"They were more efficient than us, we were down to 14 men, it was tough," said France captain Gregory Alldritt. "It's hard to analyse right now, but the championship is long." 

Italy host England and Wales take on Scotland on Sunday (NZ time).