PARIS (Reuters) - Johnny Sexton’s last-second drop goal earned Ireland a dramatic 15-13 away victory against France in their Six Nations opener as Les Bleus suffered an agonising defeat in coach Jacques Brunel’s first game in charge on Saturday.
Sexton’s 44-metre drop goal almost three minutes into injury time stunned the Stade de France as the hosts thought they would prevail after a splendid late try by wing Teddy Thomas.
But Sexton, who scored all his team’s points as he also slotted home four penalties, had other ideas.
“When (Sexton) struck the drop goal I was just willing it had enough distance to go over,” said Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.
France had stayed in contention thanks to Maxime Machenaud’s two penalties before Thomas’s dazzling run and Anthony Belleau’s conversion had put them ahead for the first time.
Les Bleus, who have not won in their last seven games, lost teenage sensation Matthieu Jalibert after the flyhalf suffered a knee injury in the first half.
Brunel, who took over from Guy Noves after a poor November series, banked on Jalibert to instil some life into the French team, but the 19-year-old limped off the field after half an hour.
Replacement scrumhalf Antoine Dupont was also injured.
“We have to wait for the medical exams but it seems to be serious for Antoine Dupont, and possibly for Matthieu Jalibert,” Brunel told a news conference.
France were penalised for offside early on and Sexton coolly slotted home the penalty as Ireland got off to a lively start.
The hosts were often pinned back to their own half with Connor Murray’s kicks proving tough to handle, but they enjoyed a good spell after 15 minutes as Jalibert showed a lot of pace.
But Ireland defended ferociously and never allowed Les Bleus into their 22 metres.
Another Sexton routine penalty earned Ireland a 6-0 lead.
Jalibert left the pitch to be replaced by Belleau on the half hour after hurting his knee.
Machenaud reduced the arrears five minutes before the interval with a penalty France won at the breakdown, only for Sexton to restore the six-point lead after a Sebastien Vahaamahina foul on Murray in the scrum.
The second rower was sanctioned again for offside and Sexton converted the resulting penalty to fatten up Ireland’s advantage, only for Machenaud to reply with a penalty.
France were still in contention after Sexton missed his first penalty of the night and Thomas scored the only try of an otherwise locked game.
Belleau converted to put France ahead but missed another penalty. Ireland pushed in the closing stages and Sexton fired a fine drop goal after a long spell of possession.
France travel to Scotland while Ireland host Italy next weekend.
Reporting by Julien Pretot, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Clare Fallon