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By Padriac Halpin
DUBLIN, March 9 (Reuters) - France came from behind to draw with Ireland in the Six Nations championship for the second year in a row on Saturday after Louis Picamoles' late try ended his misfiring side's run of three straight tournament defeats.
The big number eight drove over six minutes from time and Frederic Michalak converted for a 13-13 draw that leaves the French needing at least another draw against Scotland next week to avoid their first last-place championship finish since 1999.
The point, at least, ends the prospect of a first championship whitewash for France since 1957 but it will be Declan Kidney's Irish side who will rue throwing away a 10-point halftime lead and failing to make early second half pressure tell.
Ireland, who had beaten France only once in their last 13 attempts, adapted to the wet conditions far better. Keeping the ball among their forwards as much as possible, they reaped the rewards when captain Jamie Heaslip dived over after 10 minutes.
Ireland flyhalf Paddy Jackson, showing none of the nerves that spoilt his debut against Scotland last time out, added the tricky conversion before Michalak, almost 10 years his senior, missed a far easier penalty minutes later.
Michalak stroked over a more difficult effort only for Jackson, replacing the injured Jonathan Sexton, to make it three from four with two long-range efforts from almost the same spot by the touchline.
The French number 10, back in the team after being dropped for the defeat to England, missed another shot at goal on the stroke of halftime to leave Ireland leading 13-3 at the break.
Ireland, much criticised over the manner of their defeat in Scotland when they should have been out of sight by halftime, were similarly wasteful in a dominant opening 10 minutes of the second half when they failed to score.
France scrumhalf Morgan Parra, taking over the kicking duties from Michalak, trimmed the deficit to seven points but the visitors then somehow managed to butcher a three-man overlap when they finally got near the Irish line with 10 minutes to play.
Ireland lost both centres Brian O'Driscoll and Luke Marshall to injury in the course of defending that attack and were forced to line up for the next wave of French pressure with a backline containing two scrumhalves and two outhalves.
The pressure immediately told as Picamoles scored his try and Michalak, back in charge of the kicking tee, levelled the scores before a groggy O'Driscoll returned for the final few minutes.
There was time for more drama as referee Steve Walsh had to ask the television match official whether French replacement Vincent Debaty intentionally elbowed Ireland wing Keith Earls out of the way as he tried to dive over for a try.
Nigel Whitehouse said he did not and the game finished in a draw that will do little to ease the pressure on Ireland coach Kidney or his opposite number Philippe Saint-Andre.
"It wasn't the prettiest game to watch," Heaslip told the BBC. "I suppose the score reflected the game."
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by John Mehaffey)