A drop goal seven minutes from time by Hull KR hooker John Boudebza eased France home to a 31-14 win over Ireland in Albi.
Mark Aston’s Irishmen had shocked Les Tricolours in the European Championship last year with a win in Dublin and made the perfect start, Longhorns winger Casey Dunne going over in the 19th minute, Liam Finn converting.
France hit back, a kick to the corner by Remy Marginet saw Stanislas Robin take the ball and go over, too far out for Marginet to add the extras.
A similar tactic to the right worked five minutes later, Jordan Sigismeau taking the high kick to claim the touchdown, again Marginet just wide with the conversion attempt.
But right on the stroke of half time, a Finn penalty levelled at 8-all.
Five minutes into the second half, Catalans Dragons centre Tony Gigot intercepted for the first of his brace of touchdowns, strolling over for Marginet to put the hosts into a lead they never lost.
Soon after, new French skipper Theo Fages darted in by the posts, Marginet again on target as the Irish seemed to be tiring.
Aston’s men forced their way back into the contest in the 53rd minute, however, a Finn high kick being spilt and Brad Hargreaves on hand to dot down, Finn again on target with the boot to extend his record as Ireland’s top point scorer, taking his tally to 70.
France finished strongly after Boudebza’s one-pointer, with two late tries to extend the victory margin.
Gigot showed the ball and went himself, scampering in from 60 metres and, two minutes from time, second-rower Kevin Larroyer crossed between the posts for France’s sixth try, Marginet with his third goal.
France coach Richard Agar commented, “It’s good to get to a win on the board to begin the competition, our combinations started to fire as the game went on. Full credit to Ireland, they just wouldn’t go away as is always the case with a Mark Aston coached side.
“We are building for the future, looking ahead to the next World Cup, but there is the core of a good group here and we are making progress.”
Morgan Escare, Jordan Sigismeau, Tony Gigot, Benjamin Jullien, Damien Cardace, Theo Fages, Remy Marginet, Julian Bousquet, John Boudebza, Mikael Simon, Kevin Larroyer, Ugo Perez, Gadwin Springer
Subs: Stanislas Robin, Jean-Phillippe Baille, Antonia Maria, Clement Boyer
Tries: Robin (24) Sigismeau (30) Gigot (44, 74), Fages (50) Larroyer (78)
Goals : Marginet 3/6
Drop Goal: Boudebza
Scott Grix, Brad Hargreaves, James Mendeika, Elliot Cosgrove, Casey Dunne, Ben Johnson, Liam Finn, Danny Bridge, Bob Beswick, Luke Ambler, Haydn Peacock, Will Hope, Oliver Roberts
Subs: Joe Keyes, Callum Mulkeen, Graham O’Keeffe, Matty Haddon
Tries: Dunne (18), Hargreaves (5)
Goals : Finn (18’,55’) 3/3
Half time: 8-8
Referee: Phil Bentham (England)