FRANCE 20 IRELAND 22
Ireland rebuffed a late French challenge to hold on to a slender 22-20 lead in Paris and claim the Six Nations Championship trophy for the first time since 2009.
Johnny Sexton’s two tries helped complete the fairy tale title ending to Brian O’Driscoll’s international career, with Ulster’s Andrew Trimble – who was a major contender for man of the match - also getting over for a try.
O’Driscoll picked up consecutive man of the match awards and showed signs of emotion as the realisation set in that this, his world record setting 141st Test match appearance, would be his last in the green shirt.
The talismanic centre almost got over for a try during a pulsating match, which ended anxiously for Irish fans around the globe when a French score to win the game in the last minute went to the TMO where a forward pass was correctly called and the Irish had survived.
Ulster hooker Rory Best equalled Keith Wood’s record for international starts as Ireland hooker on his 55th Test appearance from the start, while France’s Nicolas Mas moved second on the list of France’s all-time starting props.
While Sexton scored two tries, he missed five points with the boot and was knocked out cold trying to tackle French wrecking ball centre, Mathieu Bastaeraud.
It was only the second time Ireland had won in France in 42 years – they had draw in 2009 when they clinched the Grand Slam – but this was a sweet, sweet victory and a magnificent start for Joe Schmidt coaching tenure.
The French, who had been shocking for the most in the campaign, saved their best display to the end and Maxime Machenaud gave them a 6-0 lead with two penalties.
Ireland showed their character by hitting back with a try brace, Sexton going over first and then Trimble, with the former converting the latter to make it 12-6.
But the French hit back again and Bruce Dulin went in for a try and Machenaud converted from the touchline, while Sexton missed a penalty to leave Ireland trailing 13-12 at the interval.
It was from an Ireland counter-attack that they got their noses in front again. Rob Kearney countered, Trimble cut away on the right, bed O’Driscoll.
He recycled, Paul O’Connell carried on and then Conor Murray set Sexton under the posts. Sexton converted and then added a penalty and Ireland looked comfortable at 22-13.
When French hooker Dimitri Szarzewski bundled in at the base of the post after some immense pressure and Manchenaud’s conversion made it a two point game.
Ireland found themselves in a similar situation against New Zealand last November, leading a game in the final seconds – this time they came out on the right side – just!