In a clash of the two best teams in the championship, it was a tight affair, the home side scoring two tries to Ireland’s three, but the unerring boot of fullback Melvyn Jaminet, who slotted seven from eight, was decisive.
Ireland missed its hamstrung skipper Johnny Sexton, and could not get its attacking flow going in the face of a massive French pack. In just the second minute, France struck via a try to halfback and captain Antoine Dupont, who popped a sweet pass to Toulouse teammate Romain Ntamack.
Ireland wing Mack Hansen scored a spectacular try, plucking a ball from the kickoff to race over in a scene reminiscent of Kiwi John Leslie’s try for Scotland against Wales in 1999. But that was the visitors’ sole joy of the first spell.
Things turned for the better in the second stanza. Tireless flanker Josh van der Flier scored a try from a lineout drive and former Maori All Blacks, Blues and Taranaki halfback Jamison Gibson-Park darted over from a ruck. At 22-21, it was game on.
But France finished the stronger, a Cyril Baille try and late Jaminet penalty goal sealing the deal.
Ireland was not far off the pace, and will welcome Sexton back to control its tactics, but the forwards led by James Ryan, Caelan Doris and Tadgh Furlong, matched up well to the hefty French pack in the second stanza.
Wales bounced back from mediocrity in round one to take the Doddie Weir Cup with a 20-17 win over Scotland in Cardiff. There was plenty of ball movement but just two tries resulted, one to Wales prop Tomas Francis from a lineout drive and the other to Scotland wing Darcy Graham from a sweet cutout pass by Finn Russell.
Wales captain Dan Biggar gutsed it out with a leg injury to mark his 100th Test cap (97 for Wales and three for the Lions) and landed the decisive dropped goal at 70 minutes to go with his four penalty goals.
England took little time to subdue Italy in Rome. The final 33-0 scoreline rested upon the class and skill of No 10 Marcus Smith, who has learned well under former All Black Nick Evans, a double by hooker Jamie George, and some compelling breakdown work.
Smith scored 13 points, including a try, and his slick pass on the blind put Elliot Daly in.
Eddie Jones’ charges, with six changes from the Calcutta Cup defeat, needed thus display. It was not flawless or clinical, but it was concerted. The rise to second on the table was deserved.
Italy coach Kieran Crowley will be working on attacking strategies to go with an improved defensive line.
France’s dreams of a first Grand Slam since 2010 remain very much alive.
The third round will play out in a fortnight and England’s clash with Wales at Twickenham will be the highlight, though Scotland will fancy its chances of pressuring France at Murrayfield.
Cardiff: Wales 20 (Tomas Francis try; Dan Biggar 4 pen, dg) Scotland 17 (Darcy Graham try; Finn Russell 4 pen) HT: 14-14
Paris: France 30 (Antoine Dupont, Cyril Baille tries; Melvyn Jaminet con, 6 pen) Ireland 24 (Mack Hansen, Josh van der Flier, Jamison Gibson-Park tries; Joey Carbery 3 con, pen)
HT: 19-7 France
Rome: England 33 (Jamie George 2, Marcus Smith, Elliot Daly, Kyle Sinckler tries; Smith 4 con) Italy 0 HT: 21-0 England
Points: France 9, England 6, Ireland 6, Scotland 5, Wales 4, Italy 0
15 Melvyn Jaminet (France)
14 Darcy Graham (Scotland)
13 Owen Watkin (Wales)
12 Sione Tuipulotu (Scotland)
11 Gabin Villiere (France)
10 Marcus Smith (England)
9 Jamison Gibson-Park (Ireland)
8 Gregory Alldritt (France)
7 Tom Curry (England)
6 Maro Itoje (England)
5 James Ryan (Ireland)
4 Paul Willemse (France)
3 Tadgh Furlong (Ireland)
2 Ryan Elias (Wales)
1 Cyril Baille (France)
Round three (NZT):
Scotland v France, Edinburgh, February 27, 3.15am
England v Wales, London, February 27, 5.45am
Ireland v Italy, Dublin, February 28, 4am