Rugby: Sean O'Brien leads Ireland past France in World Cup thriller

France's fly half Remi Tales (right) tackles Ireland's flanker Sean O'Brien during a Pool D match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup between France and Ireland at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, south Wales, on Sunday.
France's fly half Remi Tales (right) tackles Ireland's flanker Sean O'Brien during a Pool D match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup between France and Ireland at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, south Wales, on Sunday.PHOTO: AFP

CARDIFF, Wales (AFP) - Sean O'Brien inspired Ireland to a pulsating 24-9 win over France in their Pool D decider on Sunday that condemned the French to a quarter-final against defending champions New Zealand.

Ireland now take on Argentina in the last eight, but suffered a massive blow with injuries to Jonny Sexton, captain Paul O'Connell and Peter O'Mahony.

O'Brien was a lion in the scrum and a constant menace to Les Bleus who were never able to impose their flair-filled game on their opponents.

The French must now prepare for a rematch of the 2011 World Cup final the All Blacks won by a single point.

Key pivot Sexton kicked two early penalties for the Irish before going off, his replacement Ian Madigan kicking one of his own as Scott Spedding booted two long-range efforts to keep France in the game at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

The Six Nations champions scored two second-half tries through Rob Kearney and Connor Murray, Madigan adding a conversion and late penalty. France's sole points in the second period came from a Morgan Parra penalty.

Two well-drilled defensive lines that failed to panic in the face of firestorm attacks meant any show of ill-discipline was critical.

Frederic Michalak scuffed a first penalty attempt in the sixth minute, almost rectified when Ireland were penalised for collapsing a scrum, the South African-born Spedding seeing his 48-metre kick come back off the post.

Sexton made no mistake with a 12th-minute penalty to draw first blood after Mathieu Bastareaud was ajudged to have strayed offside.

Spedding drew France level with a long-range effort before Sexton booted his second penalty.

Discipline was proving to be key and when Peter O'Mahoney went high on Guilhem Guirado, Spedding nailed a monster penalty from 51 metres to make it 6-6 after 22 minutes.

Worringly for Ireland, Sexton was on the end of two ferocious tackles in the first quarter, the second bone-cruncher from revived No 8 Louis Picamoles resulting in the fly-half limp off to be replaced by Madigan.

The newcomer immediately calmed Irish nerves with a penalty of his own after Pascal Pape tackled Tommy Bowe without the ball and then orchestrated a fine midfield move.

Bowe scorched through on a reverse ball and perfectly played out the two-on-one situation in front of him, Keith Earls unable to hold on to the ball with the line beckoning. A clear missed opportunity for Ireland in the face of France's Thierry Dusautoir-led teak-tough defence.

Spedding thought he was in at the stroke of half-time, some desperate defence shoring up the blindside just in time.

But there was more bad news for Ireland as Toulon-bound skipper O'Connell was given oxygen as he was stretchered off after injuring his knee in a previous ruck.

Ireland opened the second period keen to convert their first-half domination of territory and possession into points.

Centre Robbie Henshaw became more and more influential as the game wore on, managing to split the French defence to set up a scrum in the corner.

Bowe charged and from a series of pick and go's, the ball was worked right to Rob Kearney who rode Michalak's half-hearted tackle to dot down, Madigan failing with the conversion.

Momentum was with the men in green, Iain Henderson dropping the ball as they pressed unrelentlessly in their search for a second try, the French defence looking increasingly ragged.

Replacement scrum-half Parra pulled back three points for France but Ireland had not finished, Murray crossing from close-range after another O'Brien drive for the line.