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Saturday, February 6, 1999 Published at 15:08 GMT

France snatch victory in Dublin

The French try scorer Richard Dourthe shows some tough tackling

Ireland 9-10 France

The was no luck for the Irish against France in their opening match of the Five Nations tournament after Thomas Castaignede scored a last-minute penalty to win by a single point.

Ireland had held an advantage for the whole of the game until the outside-half stepped up to seal Ireland's fate and keep France on course for their third championship in as many years.

The French captain, Raphael Ibanez, paid tribute to the brave Irish side and said it was probably the hardest toughest match he had ever played in.

"The intensity was extreme as hard as I have ever known it and the Irish really deserved a result but Thomas held his nerve and we still have our dream of the third in a row alive," Ibanez said.

Ulster hero David Humphreys had a chance at the death to win it for Ireland but he screwed his kick just wide of the uprights.

Irish fullback Conor O'Shea had sympathy for Humphreys and refused to blame the fly-half for the defeat.

"Its not David's fault we lost, it was down to the other players on the pitch that we didn't make it. Its a team game and not a one man show."

France started the match as favourites should, they were direct and showed true running skills but failed to get away the vital pass in the slippery conditions.

The Irish came under pressure from the first whistle and only desperate defence stopped the French from scoring early on.

The French won some quality line-out ball and drove to the line but the men in green managed to get enough numbers behind the ball and the threat passed.

[ image: Costello drives on for the Irish]
Costello drives on for the Irish
Niggly errors crept into the Irish passing game but both side failed to get any continuity.

Ireland had two penalty opportunities in the opening ten minutes but outside-half Humphreys missed both attempts from distance.

The most absurd spectacle of the opening period was both sets of players being covered in the dye used to mark the sponsors' names on the pitch. Within 20 minutes the men in green and blue looked like they had been painting in a nursery classroom.

Ireland endured a damaging blow in the opening period when centre Jonathan Bell went off looking dazed to be replaced by Rob Henderson, of Wasps.

A major theme of the first half was the fragility of the French full-back Emile Ntamack. The converted winger seemed to be very unsure of the high-ball and after 25 minutes a missed catch gave Ireland their first points.

The referee gave the French offside and Humphreys made no mistake with the penalty.

After taking the lead Ireland gain confidence and Connor O'Shea at full-back made some telling runs but the second phase possession always failed to arrive.

[ image: Bishop is swallowed by Lombard]
Bishop is swallowed by Lombard
Humpreys doubled the Irish lead just before the break after the French forwards lost their composure at a scrum. The Australian referee awarded the penalty and the fly-half slotted the ball over.

The second period saw Ireland go immediately on the attack. The back-row appeared to get to breakdowns first and after 45 minutes Irish pressure produced another penalty opportunity that Humpreys dispatched with aplomb.

French flanker Phillipe Benetton should have been sent off after punching Keith Wood on the floor but the referee and linesman appeared to be unsighted and a French winger was booked instead.

France got back into the game after the Irish were penalised for deliberately wheeling a scrum. The penalty was tapped and after rolling the maul Richard Dourthe was judge to have got the ball down.

Thomas Castaignede popped the conversion over and set up a thrilling climax to the rain-soaked game.

France pressured but the Irish were steadfast in the defence and managed the occasional attacking salvo. But French pressure eventually found Ireland out.

Castaignede missed a long penalty attempt but after an offside decision he Frenchman made no mistake with a shorter effort to give France the lead.

Humphreys had an immediate chance to regain the advantage but he pushed his attempt wide and with it Ireland's hopes of a Five Nations' upset.

Ireland: O'Shea, Bishop, Maggs, Bell, Dempsey, Humphreys, McGuinness, Clohessy, Wood, Wallace, Johns, Davidson, Miller, Costello, O'Cuinneagain. Replacements: Henderson, Elwood, Scally, Brennan, Galwey, Fitzpatrick, Nesdale.

France: Ntamack, Bernat-Salles, Dourthe, Comba, Lombard, Castaignede, Carbonneau, Califano, Ibanez, Tournaire, Brouzet, Pelous, Benetton, Lievremont, Magne. Replacements: Laussucq, Gomes, Aucagne, Raynaud, Cleda, Marconnet, Dal Maso.

Referee: P Marshall (Australia)

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