France demonstrated exactly why they were made favourites to win this year's Six Nations by battering champions Ireland 33-10 in freezing Paris conditions. Declan Kidney's side, unbeaten since November 2008 before yesterday, looked out of sorts and had no answer to the French half-back orchestrators of Francois Trinh-Duc and Morgan Parra. Ireland went into yesterday's match knowing that victory would lift them up to third place in the world rankings, displacing Australia. France, who enjoyed an 18-9 opening win over Scotland, started brightly and took the lead with a Parra penalty on 18 minutes after prop Cian Healy was sin binned for obstructing scrum-half Trinh-Duc.
The Irish were punished for pulling down a maul and their seven-man scrum creaked under intense pressure with the referee twice penalising the front row for collapsing. The crowd's plea for a penalty try went unheeded but the pressure paid off when hooker William Servat was driven over by the posts for the game's first try after 27 minutes. Parra's conversion made it 10-0 and, although Ronan O'Gara pulled three points back with a 30th-minute penalty, not even the return from the sin bin of Healy could prevent the dominant French from extending their lead, centre Yannick Jauzion going through a gap in Ireland's defence for a second try.
Parra kicked his third goal and Ireland's woes worsened six minutes before the break when Rob Kearney went off with a leg injury. The harder Ireland tried, the worse it got and there was only a matter of time before France extended their lead, 17-stone Mathieu Bastareaud fending off Brian O'Driscoll to send full-back Clement Poitrenaud over for a third try on 58 minutes and Parra maintained his accuracy to kick a fourth goal and make it 24-3.
Parra piled on the agony with a long-range drop goal but Ireland at last gave their supporters something to cheer when O'Driscoll took a return pass from Stephen Ferris and sent David Wallace over for a 64th-minute try. "As a whole we played quite poorly today," O'Driscoll told the BBC. "We lost our shape at times, maybe we panicked a bit and we didn't take the right options when we got into their territory. Momentum is swung on small little things and it didn't go our way."
O'Gara added the conversion but any hopes of a Welsh-like comeback were quickly extinguished. Parra lost his 100 per cent record when striking an upright with a penalty but made amends with an even more ambitious kick from near halfway and replacement Frederic Michalak wrapped up the scoring with a drop goal. Vincent Clerc, the France winger, said: "It was a great performance, we put up great defence against a great Irish team. We are surprised [at the margin of victory] but we believe in ourselves and we played the perfect match today."
* With agencies