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Ireland grinds out win over France for Six Nations title

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The Canadian Press
3/15/2014 5:07:48 PM
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PARIS -- Ireland held on grimly in a nail-biting finish to beat France 22-20 and win its first Six Nations since 2009, giving centre Brian O'Driscoll the perfect send-off in his last test on Saturday.

With just over a minute remaining, O'Driscoll's and Irish hearts sank when France No. 8 Damien Chouly scored in the right corner, but the try was disallowed for a forward pass from captain Pascal Pape.

"I'm over the moon, very happy for the lads and obviously very happy for Brian in his last international," Ireland captain Paul O'Connell said. "Historically, this is always our toughest Six Nations with England away from home and France away from home, so to win the championship with these two fixtures is a great success."

Ireland flyhalf Jonathan Sexton scored two tries among a personal 17 points to steal the limelight in O'Driscoll's world-record 141st and final test. Right winger Andrew Trimble got Ireland's other try.

"There is where it all began and to finish with a medal around my neck 15 years later is incredible," said O'Driscoll, who was still in his jersey at the news conference. "It's been a fantastic Six Nations for us. I've enjoyed every second. I don't really want to take this jersey off yet."

Ireland's last win in Paris was in 2000, when O'Driscoll, nine months into his great career, scored a hat trick of tries and made his name.

"I don't think anybody will step into Brian's shoes," Ireland coach Joe Schmidt said. "They're rather big, but hopefully they can grow into them."

Ireland's title was only its second in 29 years, and relegated England to second for a third straight year. England beat Italy 52-11 in Rome earlier, forcing Ireland and France, a long shot for the title, to win or miss out. France finished fourth, Wales rising to third with a 51-3 defeat of Scotland.

France, after an indifferent campaign, came to the party with all guns loaded and produced the game's highlight moment, its first try to fullback Brice Dulin. There was a controversial second try from hooker Dimitri Szarzewski, who knocked on before scoring against the post.

"Of course it's frustrating to finish fourth," France coach Philippe Saint-Andre said. "You can't say our players can't play rugby and that they don't have any desire. We showed enormous ambition to play good rugby. The highest level is very cruel and you have to congratulate Ireland and O'Driscoll."

France missed chances in the last 10 minutes to take the lead, when replacement scrumhalf Jean-Marc Doussain's penalty drifted wide and the disallowed try.

"I would have liked to have closed it out a lot better than we did," O'Connell said. "I've been coming to Paris since I was 22, it's a very tough place to win. I've never won here before. In my year as captain, at 34 and in Brian's last cap, it really is an incredible feeling."

O'Driscoll kissed the Six Nations trophy before O'Connell raised it aloft, sending Ireland's large contingent of fans into delirium again.

"I tried to channel the emotions into the performance. You can't allow the occasion to get the better of you," O'Driscoll said. "You have to try and make sure you're a cog in the wheel of the team. The emotions come after and they did, and I'm sure there'll be a few tears later on with multiple beers on board. But it's a wonderful way to finish."

Early momentum, especially from centre Mathieu Bastareaud, was with France for a 6-0 lead.

Sexton's first try cut the lead to one, and soon after, scrumhalf Conor Murray's clever footwork and pass released Trimble for a try and 12-6.

Stung back into action, the French pack took control. With blood pouring from a cut under his right eye, Szarzewski gained ground and flyhalf Remi Tales lofted a pin-point cross-kick to the right corner, where winger Yoann Huget brilliantly palmed it down to Dulin, who scored. It was France's best move of the tournament.

Sexton missed a penalty, the last act of the half, to allow France to go into the interval 13-12 ahead but without prop Nicolas Mas, who trudged off with his right arm in a sling.

In the second half, Trimble's superb run down the right almost earned the supporting O'Driscoll a try. Ireland recycled, and Murray sent Sexton over for the seven-pointer. Another penalty from Sexton made it 22-13.

But France wasn't finished. Just after the hour mark, Szarzewski's try that really wasn't cut the margin to two.

The Irish resisted the final French onslaught to send O'Driscoll into a happy international retirement

"Not many people get to finish their career on their own terms and with high emotions," O'Driscoll said. "I feel very fortunate."

Ireland celebrates (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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