France (6) 9
Penalties: Spedding 2, Parra
Ireland (9) 24
Tries: R Kearney, Murray
Penalties: Sexton 2, Madigan 2
Ireland will avoid a Rugby World Cup quarter-final meeting with reigning champions New Zealand after beating France to top Pool D, but were left to count the cost after Johnny Sexton, captain Paul O'Connell and Peter O'Mahony all went off with potentially tournament-ending injuries at the Millennium Stadium. Rob Kearney and Conor Murray scored second half tries to help book a last eight meeting with Argentina, meaning France must face-off with the All Blacks, but concerns over the trio and flanker Sean O'Brien who is expected to be cited for a first half punch on Pascal Pape almost overshadowed the achievement of qualifying for the knock-out phase with a fourth straight win.
Sexton and Scott Spedding exchanged two first half penalties, before the Ireland fly-half was replaced following a bruising tackle from Louis Picamoles. Replacement Iain Madigan put Joe Schmidt's side 9-6 up at the break but the image of O'Connell being stretchered from the field, on what could be his final international appearance, was the abiding memory of the opening 40 minutes. Replays at the break also revealed that O'Brien could be punished retrospectively after blatantly striking Pape off the ball.
Kearney went over for his third World Cup try in as many games to extend Ireland's lead, but only after O'Mahony was too taken from the field after landing awkwardly as he fell backwards in a tackle. Though substitute Morgan Parra put France within five points with a penalty the 1999 and 2011 runners-up were unable to muster a response as Murray scored under the posts to make the game safe. New Zealand will face the French in the second quarter-final in Cardiff on 17 October, before Ireland - who have never before reached a World Cup quarter-final, take on Argentina on 18 October at the same venue.
Though the qualifiers from the routine Pool D had already been decided, the line up for the quarter-finals was still to be completed with the All Blacks and Argentina lying in wait. Victory for either side would guarantee top spot and see them avoid a duel with the twice world champions, while the team on the wrong end of the result would face a daunting fate in the knock-out phase.
Neither side had been overly impressive on their way to winning their opening three pool matches and reaching the last eight, with France eventually seeing off Canada in their last outing, while Ireland edged past Italy to assure qualification. Schmidt's side were unbeaten in their last four meetings against Les Blues, but narrow wins in Dublin and Paris in their last two meetings meant the Pool D decider promised to be as keenly contested as ever.
Philippe Saint Andre's side's hopes would once again rest on their variable temperament and through the nerve of fly-half Frederic Michalak, who had endured a low-key tournament thus far. Ireland were meanwhile under pressure to convert their successive Six Nations titles into progress in the sport's premier international competition.
The anthems which threatened to blow the roof off the top of the Millennium Stadium confirmed that Ireland would enjoy close to home advantage in Cardiff, however it would be the French who would exert their authority early on. But after Michalak and Spedding missed with early penalties, Ireland drew first blood as Sexton gave his side the lead from a French offside.
Spedding would make it third time lucky after another Irish infringement around the breakdown but Sexton, after striking the upright from a drop goal, restored the lead straight away with a second penalty. O'Mahony's high tackle allowed France to level for a second time though as Spedding kicked from inside his own half.
Disaster struck for Ireland mid-way through the half when Sexton, after receiving a big hit from Picamoles, was substituted and had to be consoled as he was replaced, in an injury which could have significant repercussions for the remainder of the tournament. Replacement Madigan eased the pain with an immediate penalty, and the lead should have been extended but Keith Earls spilled Tommy Bowe's pass after the British and Irish Lions winger sliced through the French defence.
Though Schmidt's side led at the interval, a second injury blow in the form of O'Connell, who was stretchered from the field after twisting his knee, overshadowed their thee-point advantage. Injury also looks set to bring a premature end to the 35-year-old's international career, but it would galvanise the Irish during a sterling second half display.
Ireland were nevertheless unperturbed and as France continued to haemorrhage opportunities, they finally succumbed. Robbie Henshaw broke the line before Murray spread the ball wide to allow Kearney to go over for his third try of the tournament.
As the pressure on the France line intensified, the injury count swelled too as O'Mahony became the latest player to leave the field after falling awkwardly and the nerves became frayed as Parra put his side within five points with a calm penalty. But those worries were quickly eased when Murray scored at the base of the post and then Madigan struck a second penalty to send the strong Irish contingent home jubilant, in spite of the challenges which are to come.
France: 15. Scott Spedding, 14. Noa Nakaitaci, 13. Mathieu Bastareaud, 12. Wesley Fofana, 11. Brice Dulin, 10. Frederic Michalak, 9. Sebastien Tillous-Borde; 1. Eddy Ben Arous, 2. Guilhem Guirado, 3. Rabah Slimani 4. Pascal Pape, 5. Yoann Maestri, 6. Thierry Dusautior, 7. Damien Chouly, 8. Louis Picamoles
Replacements: 16. Benjamin Kayser, 17. Vincent Debaty, 18. Nicolas Mas, 19. Alexandre Flanquart, 20. Bernard Le Roux, 21. Morgan Parra, 22. Remi Tales, 23. Alexandre Dumoulin.
Ireland: 15. Rob Kearney, 14, Tommy Bowe, 13. Keith Earls, 12. Robbie Henshaw, 11. Dave Kearney, 10. Johnny Sexton, 9. Conor Murray; 1. Cian Healy, 2. Rory Best, 3. Mike Ross, 4. Devin Toner, 5. Paul O'Connell (c), 6. Peter O'Mahony, 7. Sean O'Brien, 8. James Heaslip
Replacements: 16. Richardt Strauss, 17. Jack McGrath, 18. Nathan White, 19. Iain Henderson, 20. Chris Henry, 21. Eoin Reddan, 22. Ian Madigan, 23. Luke Fitzgerald.