Despite a poor start which saw the French wobble for 20 minutes and trail 3-0, they roared back to go in at half time 11-3 in front thanks to a try from Clerc.
Ireland fought back at the start of the second half with a try from Anthony Foley and Ronan O'Gara put his outfit back to 11-10 with the conversion.
That was enough to give the French the wake-up call they needed, and they scored a total of 17 points in eight minutes to take a 28-10 advantage. And Ireland never managed to come back as France eventually cruised to a 35-17 victory.
"We had to start with a win, our performance was not too bad even though we showed some weaknesses," said Clerc, who was making his international return after being left out by coach Bernard Laporte for the World Cup.
"We had some difficulties in the first 20 minutes, but that was normal because it was the start of the tournament and we all needed to find our landmarks.
"But our adaptation period lasted 20 minutes and now we are back on the winning tracks."