Captain Johnny Sexton insists a stunning 32-19 victory over reigning Grand Slam champions France is “not worth anything” if Ireland do not push on towards the Guinness Six Nations title.
Andy Farrell’s men put themselves in pole position for championship glory by registering a record 13th successive Dublin win to underline their status as the world’s top-ranked side.
First-half tries from Hugo Keenan, James Lowe and Andrew Porter helped the Irish lead 22-16 at the end of a pulsating opening period before Garry Ringrose’s late score fatally ended French resistance and bagged a bonus point.
Ireland have taken a maximum 10 points from their opening two fixtures of the tournament going into a round-three trip to Rome in a fortnight’s time.
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Sexton said: “It was an incredible game, wasn’t it? It felt like we were on the up after getting that (Keenan) try and then suddenly out of nothing they can come alive, that’s what we spoke about.
“Even though we won and got five points in the end, you still didn’t feel very comfortable.
“We knew how big it was in terms of the championship and now we’ve got to decompress, take a few days off and come back.
“It’s not worth anything if we let it slip now in terms of against Italy in the next game.”
Ireland’s visit to Paris 12 months ago was billed as a title decider and justified the hype as Farrell’s men ultimately had to settle for the consolation of a Triple Crown following a 30-24 loss to the all-conquering French.
There was a similar feel to Saturday’s sold-out clash, with the world’s top two teams colliding in a Six Nations fixture for the first time.
Damian Penaud’s superb first-half score, plus 14 points from the boot of full-back Thomas Ramos ensured the visitors remained in contention for most of a tense and bruising encounter at a raucous Aviva Stadium before their phenomenal winning run was halted at 14 matches.
“We won a Triple Crown last year and we want to go better this year,” continued Sexton.
“That’s what we speak about, keeping the trajectory like this (going upwards) as opposed to in 2019 when we dipped.
“To get better is to win the championship or a Grand Slam. How you do that is concentrate on the next two weeks and try and beat Italy away which, if you saw their game last week (a 29-24 loss to France), (you know) how tough a game it’s going to be.”
Ireland were left counting the cost of a physical success which owed a lot to impressive back-up from the bench.
French prop Uini Atonio was sin-binned for a high, first-half challenge which permanently forced off home hooker Rob Herring and later cut short Sexton’s afternoon by landing on his groin.
Irish lock Tadhg Beirne left the stadium in a protective boot, with Farrell conceding that problem is “not looking too great”.
Sexton, who kicked seven points before his replacement Ross Byrne added five, also paid tribute to half-back partner Conor Murray, who impressed at the end of a difficult week in which his father suffered serious injuries while out cycling.
He said: “Unbelievable really, isn’t it? It’s mark of the character and the player.
“In my eyes, he’s always been a class operator and always been world-class in his position. It just amazes me that he could show up today, be so calm and put in the performance that he did.”
France host Grand Slam-chasing Scotland in round three after suffering a major dent in their title defence.
Head coach Fabien Galthie said: “It is almost two years since we have lost, it is hard to take. The series of wins are there, now it is necessary to learn how to take a defeat.
“Defeat is not really a friend, but we will have to spend the day with her. We came to play and win the match. Like every match, we worked hard for it but our adversary beat us. We really needed to keep control territorially.”