By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) - France's bid to end a more than decade-long Six Nations title drought picked up further steam with a scrappy 15-13 victory over injury-hit Ireland on Sunday, their first win in Dublin in almost as long.
A brilliant first-half team try finished by captain Charles Ollivon swung the game France's way but they were nearly made to rue not putting it well out of sight when Andy Farrell's men dragged their way to within a penalty of an unlikely comeback.
"It was tough and we expected it to be tough even though we could have made it easier for ourselves at one point but the Irish fought until the end," France coach Fabien Galthie told French TV.
The win meant France joined Wales at the top of the standings with two wins from two games.
Farrell said before kick off that the slippery conditions were "beautiful, exactly what we want." A barrage of kicking and not a lot of passing better suited his side but their first quarter dominance could only yield a three-point lead.
There were some positive signs when Ireland had battled the odds a man down for the majority of the opening day loss to Wales and their lineout work - a disaster in the autumn - was vastly improved again on Sunday.
A Bernard Le Roux yellow card for a trip after 23 minutes gave the hosts a chance to make their pressure count but while winger James Lowe was a trailing boot away from doing just that in the corner, it was the 14 men who scored the first try.
Just as they did in the explosive 50-10 win in their opener against Italy, French backs and forwards alike offloaded brilliantly when they finally got ball in hand, culminating in Ollivon's try, although Jamison Gibson-Park gifted him the opportunity by unnecessarily stepping in to tackle.
France took control as the Irish fell away and with Antoine Dupont again pulling the strings superbly at nine, there looked only one outcome when Damian Penaud added a second try in the 55th minute.
But an immediate, opportunistic reply out of nowhere from replacement Ronan Kelleher helped drag Ireland back to within two points with 15 minutes to go as they eyed a famous comeback win without the injured trio of captain Johnny Sexton, scrumhalf Conor Murray and lock James Ryan.
France, who last won the Six Nations in 2010, by far their longest drought since they claimed the title outright for the first time in 1959, defended staunchly to secure the victory.
France and Wales each face England, who are third in the standings, before meeting in Paris on the final day of the competition, while Ireland's Six Nations campaign is in tatters after their second successive defeat.
"Massively frustrating, we had the opportunities to go and do it and when you're not taking those opportunities, especially at home, you're not where you need to be," Ireland's stand-in skipper Iain Henderson said in a pitchside interview.
(Additioanl reporting by Julien Pretot in Paris, editing by Ed Osmond and Ken Ferris)