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Solid Ireland crush 14-man France in Six Nations opener

Holders Ireland have got off to a perfect start in the Six Nations as they punished a woeful France 38-17, running in five tries at the Velodrome 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 following 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.

Ireland’s first win against France in France since 2018 put them in control of the title race with three home games still to come.

Willemse was pinged twice in the first half for high tackles. The first card was for a shoulder hit on prop Andrew Porter’s face, earning a sin-bin.

But a second similar hit on No. 8 Caelan Doris ended up as a straight red card after 32 minutes. France were already trailing 17-3 after scrumhalf Gibson-Park and Beirne grabbed converted tries.

France got a much-needed converted try from Penaud on the first-half buzzer to give Les Tricolores hope at 17-10 down. Bordeaux teammates Maxime Lucu and Matthieu Jalibert set him up to dive over for his 36th international try.

But it took Ireland only seven minutes to restore the 14-point gap when centre Robbie Henshaw expertly popped the ball up off the ground, Doris fed Nash in the left corner and Crowley nailed the extras from wide left.

Ireland hardly even missed flyhalf great Jonathan Sexton, who retired after the World Cup. Crowley got an early penalty and converted all five tries.

France, however, clearly struggled without star scrumhalf Antoine Dupont, who is trying to make the France sevens side for the Olympics.

Gabrillagues gave France a lifeline when he dived over for a converted try in the 52nd following an attacking lineout. 

Ireland scored again, however, as Sheehan scampered over following a dominant attacking lineout. Kelleher did the same to complete the rout with moments left.

Ireland player of the match Joe McCarthy told ITV Sport: “I’m very happy, it’s never easy away in France, we probably didn’t expect to get such a high score but we’re really happy, the atmosphere was mental, everyone really dug in and it was fantastic team form.

“Our set-piece went well, we won our lineout ball, got a good strike off that, we were in sync as a team and everyone kind of played their parts.”

McCarthy said of Crowley in the No.10’s first Six Nations start: “He’s an absolute baller. He’s such a competitor, great man to lead the group, a great fella. Tonight he played unbelievable, he just drove us around the pitch.”

France travel to Scotland and Ireland hosts Italy next weekend.