They beat the pre-tournament favourites 38-17 in Marseille
Andy Farrell hailed Ireland’s ruthlessness and composure after their Guinness Six Nations title defence was launched with a record-breaking five-try demolition of 14-man France.
The reigning Grand Slam champions propelled themselves into pole position for further championship glory by dismantling the ragged pre-tournament favourites 38-17 in Marseille.
Ireland’s bonus-point success, secured by tries from Jamison Gibson-Park, Tadhg Beirne, Calvin Nash, Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher, plus 13 points from Jack Crowley, was their largest winning margin away to France.
Les Bleus’ quest for victory at a largely subdued Stade Velodrome was damaged by the 32nd-minute dismissal of lock Paul Willemse.
“We’d take any type of win here in Marseille to kick off the Six Nations but the more the game was going on, the more you saw a performance building,” said head coach Farrell.
“I thought we got exactly what we deserved in the end.
“Our composure, it wasn’t all singing all dancing and the French side was always going to pose questions and the crowd was always going to get behind them.
“But we managed to silence them quite a lot through good composure.
“The main thing for me would be our ability to stay on it for the full 80 minutes and keep attacking the game.
“When you’re playing against 14 men for a long period, sometimes subconsciously you tend to shut up shop a little bit more,
“I thought our intent was pretty good and we were pretty ruthless when we needed to be, then obviously on top of that I thought our line-out in attack and defence was outstanding.”
Both sides came into a mouth-watering tournament curtain-raiser on the back of agonising World Cup quarter-finals exits.
Ireland began in the ascendancy but received a helping hand from the indiscipline of Willemse, who was sent off in the 32nd minute following a high hit on Caelan Doris having previously been sin-binned for a similar challenge on Andrew Porter.
Scores either side of half-time from Damian Penaud and Paul Gabrillagues and seven points from the boot of Thomas Ramos gave the hosts hope but Farrell’s men were a class above.
New Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony, who spent a spell in the sin bin in the aftermath of Gabrillagues’ try for bringing down the maul, said: “I don’t think it gets any better really.
“With the stress of the last couple of days I’d have given the whole lot up for a win tonight.
“Away from home, first game up, Friday night, Marseille, the Velodrome, I’d have been a happy man packing the whole lot in tomorrow morning if you’d given me the chance to take a win.
“It’s the biggest margin that we’ve beaten France by.
“I remember as a young fella watching Irish teams and you’d be hoping that they’d hang on in there, whereas it’s a different animal now.”
France were often rudderless in the absence of star man Antoine Dupont, who is sitting out this year’s championship to focus on his country’s sevens squad for the Paris Olympics.
Les Bleus head coach Fabien Galthie said: “It’s clear that the attack game wasn’t really up to scratch, we dropped the ball, had less speed. We need to up our game in attack and defence.
“The important thing is we pick ourselves up and assume that defeat.”
Asked about Willemse’s indiscretions, Galthie replied: “I’m not going to speak about the future of this great player who was doing all he could to defend for the French team.
“They were technical errors, we know the referees don’t give any ground when the head is involved and that is quite right.”
Published: by Radio NewsHub