BEIRUT

Rugby

France’s Grand Slam hopes ended by Ireland draw

Ireland’s back row Stephen Ferris vies with France’s prop Vincent Debaty.

PARIS: France’s Six Nations Grand Slam hopes ended Sunday when they could only manage a 17-17 draw at home to Ireland despite a stirring second-half comeback. The game, postponed three weeks ago due to a frozen pitch, started with Ireland on fire as Tommy Bowe scored two first-half tries to leave the visitors 17-6 up at the break.

However, Morgan Parra’s boot and Wesley Fofana touching down helped Les Bleus salvage a point and send the Stade de France fans home at least a little cheery.

France are second in the Six Nations standings behind Wales, the only team still in position to achieve a Grand Slam, while Ireland are fourth.

Philippe Saint-Andre’s side host England in their penultimate match next Sunday after Ireland welcome Scotland Saturday.

“We came back too late to win this game. We are very disappointed with the result,” France captain Thierry Dusautoir told a pitchside interviewer.

France got off to a bad start, conceding a penalty for not releasing in the ruck, only for Jonathan Sexton to fluff his attempt from dead center.

The hosts then tried to run the ball from the 22-meter line but Aurelien Rougerie’s ill-fated pass was intercepted by Bowe, who touched down under the posts. Sexton added the extras to put Ireland 7-0 up after 12 minutes.

Parra reduced the arrears with a penalty after Ireland were caught offside as France were piling on the pressure on the 5-meter line.

Sexton restored Ireland’s seven-point advantage after France, who relied a lot more on kicking than usual, conceded a penalty for not rolling away after a tackle.

Parra then kept his team afloat with a well-executed 45-meter penalty that went just inside the right post.

France upped their level with lock Pascal Pape making some devastating runs but Parra failed to convert his third penalty after Ireland were once again adjudged to be offside.

The World Cup finalists fell 11 points behind on the stroke of halftime after they lost another ball in the ruck and Bowe beat a tackle, kicked and gathered a good bounce before touching down again.

France came out in the second half with all guns blazing but their handling was too poor to send them over the line.

Parra’s boot at least was good enough to narrow the gap to eight points after Ireland collapsed a maul.

They were definitely back in the game when center Fofana, who has now scored a try in each of his three France appearances, dived over after being set up on the wing by Francois Trinh-Duc.

Parra added another penalty as France seemed on the verge of turning the situation around but Ireland defended fiercely as Les Bleus missed a couple of late drop goal attempts.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 05, 2012, on page 14.

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