Sexton's boot again helps Irish down France 19-9 in Dublin
DUBLIN (AP) — Another perfect goalkicking effort by Jonathan Sexton led Ireland over France 19-9 in a rain-soaked, often sloppy Six Nations rugby match on Saturday.
Sexton hit two penalties, converted the only try, and struck a 40-meter dropped goal before leaving in the 68th minute with victory in sight in his first match for Ireland since a calf injury in November.
Ireland rose to the top of the Six Nations table, still in contention with undefeated England, which faces winless Italy on Sunday.
Ireland, which won the Six Nations in 2014 and 2015, goes to Wales before a potential championship decider against England in Dublin on St. Patrick's weekend.
France, meanwhile, was out of the title hunt after a second loss. It hasn't finished better than fourth in Six Nations play since 2011, the last time the Tricolors managed to beat Ireland in Dublin.
The French mounted a ferocious first-quarter attack to lead 6-0 on two Camille Lopez penalty kicks. But they had an early try disallowed because of a Gael Fickou knock-on, and their attack unraveled as weather conditions steadily worsened in front of 54,000 roaring fans.
Ireland seized momentum with a 29th-minute try from close range by scrumhalf Conor Murray, who put Ireland repeatedly in strong field position with pinpoint kicks. Sexton's conversion put Ireland up 7-6.
The Irish failed to convert sustained pressure into more first-half points, twice turning the ball over within five meters of France's try-line.
Lopez converted a 73rd-minute penalty to pull France within 16-9, but substitute Irish flyhalf Paddy Jackson hit his own three minutes later to deny France a losing bonus point.
Sexton's performance mirrored his last Dublin face-off with the French in 2015, when he went 5-for-5 in penalties in an 18-11 win. His dropped goal for 13-6 was his only his third for Ireland and first since 2011.
France too often self-destructed in attack, committing 13 penalties to Ireland's eight. Nor did it compete consistently in set-piece play, winning just two mauls to Ireland's 12.