DUBLIN France outclassed Ireland for the second time in seven days with a convincing 26-22 win in a World Cup warm-up on Saturday, ending their preparations on a high and leaving Ireland needing to regroup after a third successive defeat.
After a weak opening, France scored 26 unanswered points, including tries from fullback Cedric Heymans and flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc on either side of the interval. Scrum half Morgan Parra kicked 13 points and was named man of the match.
Ireland dominated the first 20 minutes with a debut try from prop Cian Healy and a penalty from flyhalf Jonathan Sexton, but lost their momentum and were punished for sloppy play.
A late surge produced two consolation tries in the last five minutes from Sexton and flanker Sean O'Brien, but the Irish never looked like they could overturn the French lead.
France will go into the World Cup next month, where they face hosts New Zealand in the group stage, with a morale-boosting two wins from two warm-up games despite resting several senior players.
Ireland, already near full strength, will have to try to bounce back against England in the last of their four warm-up games next Saturday. They will need a confidence boost if they want to get past Australia and a resurgent Italy in the group stage to reach their first quarter-final for eight years.
"It wasn't what we wanted but we need to learn from it," said Irish coach Declan Kidney. "But are we concerned? Not really. Little things can have a huge effect on test matches."
Ireland's World Cup preparations were further dented when promising fullback Felix Jones, making his first start for the team, was carried off the pitch after injuring his foot. Kidney said there was no break, but his ligaments might be damaged.
Ireland looked good early on when Sexton opened the scoring with a penalty in the second minute. A sustained bout of pressure allowed Healy to surge past Parra across the line for his first score for Ireland.
Things began to unravel after Sexton missed his conversion and sloppy play by Ireland allowed Parra to pull France back into the game with a penalty that was followed by a 48-metre drop goal from fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc.
France stepped up a gear and went into the lead when centre Aurelia Rougerie sliced through a confused Irish defence and fed fullback Haymans who touched down near the posts, giving Parra an easy conversion.
A mistimed tackle by Keith Earls gave Parra another chance to slot over, leaving the score 16-8 at half time.
"They kept the scoreboard ticking over even when they weren't heavily in possession. It was smart football from them," said Irish captain Brian O'Driscoll.
France extended their lead in the 45th minute with a penalty after right wing Andrew Trimble played the ball offside.
A wild pass by Irish scrum half Tomas O'Leary was intercepted by Trinh-Duc who galloped over the line. Parra converted to take France to 26 points.
Ireland salvaged some pride when Sexton and O'Brien crossed the line in the 75th and 80th minutes and reserve fly half Ronan O'Gara slotted over two conversions.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)
Our top photos from the last 24 hours.