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Irish joy as French falter in opener

IRELAND ended a seven-game losing streak to France with a 30-21 victory on the opening day of the Six Nations championship on Saturday while England scored a flattering 36-11 triumph over error-prone Italy.

A year after breaking his arm in the first round of games against the Italians, Ireland center Gordon D'Arcy marked his return to the lineup with the team's third try at Croke Park.

Back row Jamie Heaslip and center Brian O'Driscoll, captain for his 52nd game, also crossed the French line in a high-quality game after Imanol Harinordoquy had given the visitor a 7-3 lead. Winger Maxime Medard scored a second French try but the Irish held on for a long overdue victory over one of their major rivals.

"It's important for us to sta`rt well. We were very conscious of the fact that over the last few years we let France off to an early start," O'Driscoll said. "It's difficult to play catchup against them."

France coach Marc Lievremont said he could not understand why his team lost the game. "I'm exceptionally disappointed. Both the players and coaches are frustrated because we had high hopes for this match.

"We wanted to start the Six Nations well. There was a lack of discipline, especially early on. I just can't explain it."

The third game of the opening round of matches sees defending champion Wales take on Scotland at Murrayfield later yesterday. After that, Wales takes on an England side that failed to impress its own fans at Twickenham.

Scrumhalf Harry Ellis returned to the lineup to score two of England's five tries and halfback partner Andy Goode, back in the lineup after two years, contributed 16 points with a try, four conversions and a penalty.

But Italian errors handed England its first three tries with poor handling and passing as Martin Johnson's team opened up leads of 19-0 and 29-6 without dominating the forward play or creating any good moves of its own.

"We won in the end. There is lots to improve on as a team but it is nice to be in a winning changing room," said Johnson, whose team is likely to be beaten if it produces the same poor quality performance against defending champion Wales on Saturday.

Italian coach Nick Mallett's decision to start flank forward Mauro Bergamasco as a scrumhalf backfired and his wayward passes regularly got his team into trouble. Center Riki Flutey and winger Mark Cueto also crossed the line while Mirco Bergamasco - Mauro's brother - scored a late reply for the Italians.

"I said before the game the responsibility was mine," said Mallett, who coached South Africa to a record-equalling 17-test victories.


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