Ireland has held off a furious finish from France to prevail 18-11 and set up a home showdown with England between the Six Nations' last two unbeaten teams.

Ireland looked rock solid in the second match of its title defence at Lansdowne Road, even while up 18-6 with 14 men and 12 minutes to go.

Then substitute lock Romain Taofifenua rumbled over the Irish tryline with barely 10 minutes left as France's second-half revival kept rising in intensity.

But France ran out of time, and rued flyhalf Camille Lopez missing five points off his kicking boot.

Meanwhile, his counterpart Jonathan Sexton, playing his first match following a 12-week stand-down for multiple concussions, kept Ireland in front with five penalties from five goalkicks, and twice survived banging into French bowling ball Mathieu Bastareaud.

While Sexton was having his bloodied forehead cleaned up after the first knock, replacement Ian Madigan knocked over Ireland's only other penalty kick.

Beating France in a bruiser put Ireland in good stead for the visit in two weeks by England.

Ireland was well in control after a first half featuring mainly defence, and not a single line break.

France started to enjoy more success with a straight substitution of its entire front row in the 50th minute, including Taofifenua. The scrum gave the French a dominant platform, even in a seven-man shove after Pascal Pape was sin-binned for kneeing Jamie Heaslip in the back.

The many thousands of French packed into a 55,000-strong sellout crowd cheered wildly as the Irish defence finally started to wilt following a yellow card for hooker Rory Best for tripping in the 61st.

Sexton still kicked Ireland further ahead with his fifth penalty, then finally France broke the Irish defence, after a 12-pass blitz.

France stretched the Irish wide right, then quickly back left, where fullback Rob Kearney found himself isolated against three French players and unable to stop Taofifenua.

Lopez hooked the conversion across the posts to leave Ireland with a seven-point cushion.