Sometimes games don't live up to expectations, other times they exceed them.
Billed as a blockbusting battle of the world’s top two teams, Ireland and France served up a ferocious Guinness Six Nations battle in front of 51,000 boisterous fans in Dublin 4.
French supporters came in huge numbers and contributed massively to a game played in an electric atmosphere.
And on the field the players delivered, the bonus-point success, Ireland’s 22nd win in their last 23 home games, was their first victory over France in four seasons and their first under head coach Andy Farrell.
That they recorded a fully deserved 13-point win minus regulars Jamison Gibson-Park, Robbie Henshaw, Tadhg Furlong and Dan Sheehan, and saw out the game with Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony off the pitch, will be the most satisfying aspect for the coach.
In a World Cup year, this performance will do nothing to dispel the gathering expectations around the side.
But first things first – after seeing off a star-studded French team, who themselves were on a record 14-match winning streak, Ireland will sense a Grand Slam, with trips to Rome and Murrayfield coming before a home finale against England.
It was an incredible first half, full of thrills and spills, end-to-end action, four tries and a yellow card.
Ireland scored three and will feel they left another three out there.
Thomas Ramos opened the scoring with a penalty in the fifth minute when Tadhg Beirne was slow to roll away.
But Ireland landed the first heavy blow when Murray and Finlay Bealham combined off a ruck in midfield with the prop, starting instead of the injured Furlong, playing a perfect, soft pop pass for Keenan.
The full-back had options and shaped to pass, buying time to beat the French scramblers to the line.
Ramos clawed three back with another penalty soon after and the visitors struck for a typical French score.
Two sloppy passes looked to have put title holders France on the back foot inside their own 22. But Damian Penaud was able to angle past the chasers and found Anthony Jelonch in support.
The flanker outpaced Sexton and returned the ball to the Clermont man, who had the pace to beat Keenan and Mack Hansen.
The conversion put France ahead but Hansen blocked down Ramos' clearance after the restart and Garry Ringrose found Lowe in space on the wing.
Penaud appeared to close down the chance but the winger dived for the corner and touched down.
James Lowe somehow manages to ground the ball for an Ireland try. #SixNations #IREvFRA— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) February 11, 2023
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There was a TMO consultation but the replays showed an incredible athletic feat whereby Lowe managed to keep his feet above the grass and was able to dot the centre of the ball millimetres from the whitewash for his eighth Irish try.
France could have and perhaps should have been reduced to 14 in the 26th minute but the officials decided that Uini Atonio’s high hit on Rob Herring, which necessitated a head injury assessment, from which the hooker did not return, merited just a yellow card.
"Not a high level of danger," said Wayne Barnes, with Ronan Kelleher coming on in place of the Ulster man.
But Ireland did make them pay off the resulting scrum with Andrew Porter powering over from close range moments later.
Andrew Porter powers over the line as Ireland retake the lead in a thriller. #SixNations #IREvFRA— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) February 11, 2023
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France responded with a Ramos three-pointer and Ireland were unlucky not to score another try; Sexton led a breakout but a James Ryan clearout on the French line displeased Barnes and France survived.
Antoine Dupont then held Hansen up on the line but Sexton closed out the half with a penalty under the posts to give the hosts a 22-16 advantage.
Ireland had put their bodies on the line and lost two key men just after the restart: first Beirne hobbled off with Iain Henderson coming on, before a clearly frustrated Sexton left the field after conceding defeat to a leg injury.
A series of sloppy kicks in open play, Murray guilty more than once, allowed the dangerous Ethan Dumortier to cause trouble. Ireland looked flat but did enough to keep the French out in the crucial third quarter.
Off went O’Mahony and Murray and all of a sudden Ireland had lost 304 caps worth of experience.
On came Ross Byrne, Jack Conan and Craig Casey and moments later Keenan found the corner with a 50:22 that set up a penalty under the posts for Byrne.
The Leinster out-half’s kick was soon cancelled out when Ramos dropped a goal from distance and the game was in the balance with 18 minutes to play.
Kelleher got held up over the line after a clever Casey kick and then France won a turnover penalty to relieve the pressure.
But Ireland were not to be denied.
Garry Ringrose scores Ireland's final try as the home side see off France 32-19 at the Aviva. #SixNations #IREvFRA— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) February 11, 2023
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A phenomenal passage of play, which ran up to 20 phases, including multiple carries from Bundee Aki, and a beautiful pass out of contact by man of the match Doris, set up Ringrose, who still had three defenders to deal with; in a flash the centre was over, leaving a sea of blue bodies on the floor.
Byrne converted and Ireland had their bonus point victory and now their sights set firmly on a first title since 2018 and a Grand Slam.
Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Mack Hansen, Garry Ringrose, Stuart McCloskey, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Conor Murray; Andrew Porter, Rob Herring, Finlay Bealham; Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan; Peter O'Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.
Replacements: Rónan Kelleher, Dave Kilcoyne, Tom O'Toole, Iain Henderson, Jack Conan, Craig Casey, Ross Byrne, Bundee Aki.
France: Thomas Ramos; Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Yoram Moefana, Ethan Dumortier; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont (capt); Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Uini Atonio; Thibaud Flament, Paul Willemse; Anthony Jelonch, Charles Ollivon, Gregory Alldritt.
Replacements: Gaetan Barlot, Reda Wardi, Sipili Falatea, Romain Taofifenua, Francois Cros, Sekou Macalou, Baptiste Couilloud, Matthieu Jalibert.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)
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