France became the ninth nation to qualify for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup, and need a point at home to Scotland next week to claim their first European Championship title since 2005, after overcoming resistant Ireland 24-10 at the Morton Stadium.
The significant damage was done in the first half when, with the strong Santry wind behind them, Les Bleus posted 18 points without reply, Ireland at one stage clinging on when heroically defending six consecutive sets.
With the elements in their favour in the second period, the Wolfhounds turned it into a contest when impressive Ethan Ryan went over, but Alrix da Costa’s second touchdown, darting over from acting half back, settled the contest and sparked celebrations that France would be competing for the Paul Barriere trophy in three years’ time.
Their skipper Jason Baitieri commented: “The primary objective was to qualify for the 2021 World Cup and that’s done and, hopefully, with a good crowd behind us in Carcassonne, we should be looking to finish this tournament on a high.
“We started the game well and controlled it the way we wanted to, but Ireland showed a lot of heart in the second half so I’m proud of our effort and commitment.”
Baitieri continued: “The French Federation has put a lot into getting to the World Cup, the infrastructure is developing, we are heading in the right direction and we want to go there and be really competitive.”
Lewis Bienek was strong for the hosts in the early stages, Scott Grix with the first half break and Jack Higginson cleverly keeping the ball in play, but Ireland were penalised at marker, Mickael Goudemand went close and da Costa burrowed his way over from close in; Tony Gigot converting.
Romain Navarette led the charge downfield and, on the back of a 20 metre drop out, Gigot’s long pass on the last tackle saw Paul Marcon over out wide; Gigot wayward with the extras.
Ryan was deemed to have taken the ball dead, Lucas Albert was held up and Ireland were penalised as Gigot and Rhys Curran worked a run-around, Gigot converting the penalty to make it 12-0 to the visitors in the 17th minute.
Ireland were their own worst enemies - losing possession cheaply, giving away penalties and conceding a drop out from Theo Fages’ kick - yet looking like they’d survived seven minutes of intense pressure thanks to a mammoth defensive effort.
The contest swung when the hosts partially stopped, thinking Morgan Escare had knocked on, Fages breaking into the clear with a lovely step and judging his kick perfectly for Bastien Ader to gather and power over the top of Grix; Gigot adding the extras.
Ryan looked like he might have had some joy from a Finn cross kick just before the break, but Escare forced a turnover in a fascinating wing duel.
At the start of the second half, on the back of another big run from George King, Finn’s kick was reeled in by Ryan’s leap and twist over in the corner, Finn wide with the goal attempt, but that left-sided route becoming the host’s modus operandi.
It nearly worked again soon after but Grix couldn’t reel in Ryan’s inside pass and Albert broke clear, Higginson’s kick down the line just finding touch ahead of Ryan’s sprint.
Finn found 60 metres on a penalty with the wind behind but Ader covered the danger, Gigot darting out of dummy half and winning a penalty for a flop 30 metres out.
Curran went close from it, and da Costa’s jinking feet did the rest.
With eight minutes to play, Ireland fashioned a potential lifeline, Dec O’Donnell releasing Finn who found Greg McNally, Grix grubbering for the line and the chasing McNally gathering to score; Finn reducing the gap to 14 points.
That’s how it ended, although Ireland’s spirit was summed up late on when Escare broke clear over 80 metres but was reeled in by Ed O’Keefe.
With their superior points’ difference, Ireland need only a draw in Wrexham next week to ensure World Cup qualification.
“We wanted to win the tournament but it’s out of our hands now,” said Ireland head coach Stuart Littler. “We showed some resilience and character, but the first half took too much out of our tanks.
“In the second half, we didn’t execute as well as we’d practiced but full respect to the boys, they turned up and had a dig.”
Scott Grix, Ed O’Keefe, James Bentley, Jack Higginson, Ethan Ryan, Gregg McNally, Liam Finn, George King, Declan O’Donnell, Liam Byrne, Tyrone McCarthy, Will Hope, Lewis Bienek
Subs: Peter Ryan, Ronan Michael, Gareth Gill, Michael Ward
Tries: Ryan (44), McNally (72)
Goals: Finn 1/2
Tony Gigot, Morgan Escare, Hakim Miloudi, Bastien Ader, Paul Marcon, Lucas Albert, Theo Fages, Jason Baitieri, Alrix da Costa, Romain Navarette, Benjamin Jullien, Rhys Curran, Mickael Goudemand,
Subs: William Barthau, Lambert Belmas, Thibaud Margalet, Bastien Canet
Tries: Da Costa (6, 67), Marcon (10), Ader (28)
Goals: Gigot 4/5
Referee: Scott Mikalauskas
Penalty count: 10-10
Half time: 0-18
Man of the Match: Alrix da Costa
Scoring sequence: 0-8, 0-10, 0-12, 0-18, 4-18, 4-24, 10-24