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Ireland defeat France in Six Nations opener

  • Story Highlights
  • Ireland beat France 30-21 in thrilling Six Nations opening match at Croke Park
  • Jamie Heaslip, Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy run in superb tries for hosts
  • England ease to 36-11 victory over Italy in their opening match at Twickenham
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(CNN) -- Ireland beat France 30-21 in an enthralling Six Nations rugby opener at Croke Park, Dublin, to underline their status as genuine title contenders.

Jamie Heaslip crosses the line for Ireland's opening try in their thrilling victory over France in Dublin.

Jamie Heaslip crosses the line for Ireland's opening try in their thrilling victory over France in Dublin.

Jamie Heaslip, Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy ran in brilliant tries as the Irish registered their first triumph against Les Bleus since March 2003, a sequence spanning seven Tests.

O'Driscoll's try was particularly pleasing with the Ireland captain showing the acceleration and finishing ability that seemed to be on the wane in recent seasons.

Ronan O'Gara chipped in with 15 points as the Irish landed a crucial early blow in the Six Nations title race.

Number eight Imanol Harinordoquy and winger Maxime Medard crossed the line for the visitors, the former rounding off a brilliant passage of play, while the boot of Lionel Beauxis did the rest for Les Bleus.

France went ahead with a magnificent try in the 13th minute. Harinordoquy steamrollered over O'Gara, a clever kick from Julien Malzieu continued the move which openside Thierry Dusautoir was on hand to rescue by gathering the ball and feeding Yannick Jauzion.

Possession was recycled to Chabal out wide on the left and the lock combined with winger Maxime Medard to send Harinordoquy over.

Beauxis converted but O'Gara landed a second penalty shortly after to keep Ireland snapping at their heels and the hosts took the lead in the 34th minute with a try that nearly matched France's for brilliance.

Rob Kearney and Tommy Bowe made the initial inroads but it was Heaslip who did the telling damage, accelerating into space and weaving his way to the line where he fended off last-ditch tackles from Clement Poitrenaud and Medard. O'Gara converted but there was still time before the interval for Beauxis to land a drop goal.

The second half was two minutes old when Ireland stormed further ahead with O'Driscoll showing vision and acceleration to cross under the posts. Quick line-out ball was fed to O'Driscoll who, from a near standing start, raced between the narrow gap separating Beauxis and Jauzion before wrong-footing Medard to score.

O'Gara converted to put Ireland 10 points ahead but France struck back seven minutes later, Beauxis chipping out wide for Medard to cross in the corner.

Les Bleus were clinically reeling their opponents in, Beauxis sending over his second drop goal as a grandstand finished beckoned.

But in the final quarter, it was Ireland who emerged the dominant side. D'Arcy, on for Paddy Wallace, side-stepped his way over from eight yards out in the 66th minute to put them back in control.

Beauxis and O'Gara swapped penalties in the final five minutes, but the home fans had already begun celebrating a famous victory knowing Ireland's lead was unassailable.

Meanwhile, in the day's other match, England cruised to an opening 36-11 win over Italy at Twickenham, although the performance did nothing to suggest they can challenge Ireland or champions Wales for the Six Nations title.

Italy offered nothing in opposition and England ran in five tries after Andy Goode had opened the scoring after just 95 seconds with his first Test try.

Scrum-half Harry Ellis scored once in each half, Riki Flutey added England's third and Mark Cueto rounded off the afternoon with a try in the corner.

Italy were poor but managed a consolation score for Mirco Bergamasco.

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