In an enthralling encounter watched by another green-dominated crowd, Ireland overcame a series of injuries to break clear of France with a superior display during the closing 40 minutes.
The losses of Jonathan Sexton and captain Paul O’Connell before the interval and then Peter O’Mahony left the Six Nations champions without three of their talismanic figures, but their replacements showed huge character and ability to ensure Ireland finished top of the pool.
Ian Madigan delivered a polished performance at outhalf, pulling the strings in attack and kicking eight points – including a testing place kick that split the sides at half time (9-6). Sexton and French fullback Scott Spedding had shared out four penalties during the opening 22 minutes.
Iain Henderson and Chris Henry added immensely to an Irish pack that continually got over the gain-line in an absorbing second period, with stand-in skipper Jamie Heaslip, Rory Best and tireless man of the match Sean O’Brien leading by example.
A terrific midfield bust by Robbie Henshaw lit up the attack in the lead up to Rob Kearney’s 49th minute try, the fullback producing a powerful finish to get past Frederic Michalak and crash over to the right of the posts.
Morgan Parra’s precise penalty closed to the gap to 14-9, but Conor Murray, who had a key involvement in Kearney’s score, struck decisively for Ireland’s second touchdown with nine minutes remaining. Following aggressive carries from Devin Toner, O’Brien and Best and with France shunted back under their posts, the scrum half reached out to place the ball at the base of the left hand upright.
Madigan converted and also tagged on a superb long range penalty with little over three minutes remaining, rewarding his forwards for a late flourish that saw them dominate a couple of scrums.
The spoils for Ireland’s first ever Rugby World Cup win over the French, following defeats at the 1995, 2003 and 2007 tournaments, is a quarter-final showdown with Pool C runners-up Argentina at the same Cardiff cauldron next Sunday (kick-off 1pm).