France (19) 26
Clerc was in sparkling form during the first half in Paris
Tries: Clerc 3, Heymans
Cons: Elissalde 3
Ireland (6) 21
Tries: Penalty try, Wallace
Pens: O'Gara 3
Vincent Clerc's first-half hat-trick of tries gave France enough daylight to win at the Stade de France despite Ireland's stirring fightback.
A turnover gifted Clerc his first score and the winger's two other tries came after Irish mistakes.
Ahead 19-6 at the break, Cedric Heymans' try increased the lead before Ireland hit back with a penalty try.
David Wallace's try and a Ronan O'Gara penalty cut the gap to five but despite intense pressure, France held on.
Ireland started brightly but Aurelien Rougerie's break forced the scrambling Irish defence to concede a penalty, although Jean-Baptiste Elissalde missed the chance.
Moments later, Julien Bonnaire crossed the try-line but he was held up by the Irish defence as he attempted to ground after running onto Heymans' pass.
Ireland responded with Andrew Trimble's charge putting the French defence under pressure in the 11th minute but a knock-on by John Hayes ended the opportunity.
A turnover in a ruck gifted France their opening try as Elissalde's kick behind the Irish defence was gathered by Clerc who had the simple task of touching down.
After Elissalde had added the conversion, O'Gara's quick reply from a penalty gave the Irish some respite but Clerc, the man who had broken Irish hearts at Croke Park last year, was at it again in the 19th minute.
Rob Kearney had initially failed to hold on to the restart and slack Irish midfield tackling enabled the barging David Skrela to set up Clerc for the simple finish.
Ireland squandered a glorious chance to hit back in the 27th minute after a turnover but Eoin Reddan's wild pass meant that Girvan Dempsey was quickly gobbled up by the French defence.
O'Gara's second penalty in the 29th minute undid some of the damage to cut France's lead to 12-6.
But the Munster fly-half was at fault in the 37th minute as he was caught in possession and the turnover culminated with Clerc completing his hat-trick after Heymans' pace had ripped apart the Irish defence.
Elissalde added the conversion and France led 19-6 at the interval.
Ireland's Rob Kearney is tackled by Damien Traille
Heyman ran in France's fourth try after Brian O'Driscoll's charge-down of a Skrela kick sat up perfectly for the full-back.
Despite trailing 26-6, the Irish, to their credit kept battling and sustained pressure resulted in Welsh referee Nigel Owens awarding a penalty try in the 58th minute.
The introduction of Mick O'Driscoll and Rory Best boosted the Irish pack as the French appeared to tire.
Amazingly, the Irish were back in with a glimmer of hope in the 61st minute when David Wallace barged his way over the French line as the home defence started to look decidedly vulnerable.
But crucially, O'Gara missed the conversion as France still led by more than one score at 26-18.
Ireland continued to put France under intense pressure and another great chance was squandered when Brian O'Driscoll's pass failed to find a team-mate when a try seemed on.
There were only five points in it with six minutes left when O'Gara struck a superb long-range penalty.
Ireland produced intense pressure in the closing seconds and they drove at the French line in injury time, but the chance was lost and the home side were mightily relieved to hear the final whistle.
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Ireland: Dempsey; Murphy, B O'Driscoll (capt), Trimble, Kearney; O'Gara, Reddan; Horan, Jackman, Hayes, O'Callaghan, O'Kelly, Leamy, D Wallace, Heaslip.
Replacements: Best, Buckley, M O'Driscoll, Easterby, Stringer, P Wallace, Horgan.
France: Heymans; Rougerie, Marty, Traille, Clerc; Skrela, Elissalde; Mas, Szarzewski, Faure, Mela, Nallet, Ouedraogo, Dusautoir, Bonnaire.
Replacements: Servat, Brugnaut, Jacquet, Picamoles, Parra, Trinh-Duc, Floch.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)