From iconic hat-tricks to mammoth drop goals, Kit Shepard looks back on the great France v Ireland clashes
This weekend’s France v Ireland clash is widely touted as the defining game of the 2022 Six Nations.
Over the years, the fixture has served up dazzling individual displays, last-minute drama and even a coach directing expletives at his own fans.
Let’s delve through the archives to find the five best Six Nations matches between France and Ireland.
O’Driscoll arrives: France 25-27 Ireland (2000)
History was against Ireland when they visited the Stade de France in 2000. They had not won in Paris since 1972, and had not beaten France anywhere since 1983 – a streak lasting 17 matches.
Ireland, though, had a 21-year-old who would make a career out of defying conventional wisdom. Unfazed after a fast French start, Brian O’Driscoll led his country to a famous victory with his first international hat-trick. His intelligent support lines and sharp turn of pace were too much for the hosts, who saw a 12-point lead evaporate in the second half.
The historic achievement was not down to one player alone. Denis Hickie made a heroic try-saving tackle on France hooker Marc Dal Maso, and David Humphreys converted a 77th-minute penalty to put Warren Gatland’s Ireland ahead for good. Nevertheless, this was a day defined by O’Driscoll magic. It would not be the last.
Laporte slams French fans after try-fest: France 43-31 Ireland (2006)
France had too much for Ireland six years on. Tries by Aurelien Rougerie, Olivier Magne, David Marty and Cedric Heymans saw them race into a 29-3 half-time lead, before further scores by Marty and Heymans made it 43-3 after 48 minutes.
Ireland responded with tries from Ronan O’Gara, Gordon D’Arcy, Donncha O’Callaghan and Andrew Trimble. They trailed by just 12 with 11 minutes remaining and were threatening the greatest comeback in Six Nations history, but were wasteful in the closing stages.
Despite the ten tries, France coach Bernard Laporte provided the headlines. The frustrated Stade de France crowd jeered as Frederic Michalak was substituted, provoking Laporte into calling them “f***ing bourgeois” after the match. In classic French style, les Bleus fended off the adversity to win the 2006 title.
Late drama as Croke Park breached: Ireland 17-20 France (2007)
With Lansdowne Road demolished and the Aviva Stadium under construction, Croke Park filled in as Irish rugby’s temporary home in 2007. Its first international was dramatic, as France stole a win in Dublin.
A Raphael Ibanez try gave France a 13-3 lead in the first half but Ireland roared back in unfamiliar surroundings. Ronan O’Gara went over to reduce the deficit and a 78th-minute penalty, the fly-half’s fourth of the match, put them ahead 17-13.
The hosts, though, could not hold their nerve. They coughed up possession from the ensuing kick-off and allowed winger Vincent Clerc to cut through their defence and earn France a famous victory.
Fitting finale for BOD: France 20-22 Ireland (2014)
The equation for Ireland was simple. Win in Paris, and the 2014 Six Nations title was theirs. Lose, and the championship would go to bitter rivals England. That Brian O’Driscoll was playing his final international added extra motivation, as if Ireland needed it.
All was going to plan when Johnny Sexton and Andrew Trimble scored first half tries, putting Ireland 12-6 up. against a French side playing for pride (theoretically, they could have won the title but needed a 70-point victory).
Although France briefly went ahead through a Brice Dulin score, the brilliant Sexton responded with another try and then a penalty to stretch his team’s lead to nine.
Back came France once more, with Dimitri Szarzewski barrelling over to set up a nervy last 15 minutes. They had multiple opportunities to hand England the title, but a poor miss off the tee from Jean-Marc Doussain and a last-gasp disallowed Damien Chouly try ensured Ireland held on for their second Six Nations title. Poetically, it was their first win at the Stade de France since O’Driscoll’s hat-trick 14 years earlier.
Sexton drop-goal snatches victory: France 13-15 Ireland (2018)
A forgettable battle of the boots for 70 minutes, the finale to this round one encounter had everything.
First, there was the spectacular, as a superb individual try from Teddy Thomas put France 13-12 ahead – his pace, strength and footwork breathing life into the occasion.
Then came the controversy. Replacement Antoine Dupont went down injured and, amid suspicion that the scrum-half had hurt his leg, it was agreed that Dupont had a head injury. Crucially, this allowed France to send on a specialist scrum-half Maxime Machenaud, who had himself been substituted earlier, as part of the head injury assessment protocols.
And, finally, there was the iconic act. Still just a point behind after Anthony Belleau missed a penalty, Johnny Sexton punctuated 41 desperate Irish phrases by hammering over a 45-metre drop goal in the 83rd minute. The fly-half’s epic kick gave the men in green a memorable away win that began a Grand Slam campaign.
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