Video: Ireland draw little comfort
France produce final quarter fightback to deny Declan Kidney’s team
Ireland's Paddy Jackson kicks a penalty
Jamie Heaslip of Ireland scores Ireland’s try in the first half. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Date: 9 March, 2013
Venue: Aviva Stadium
The final whistle was greeted by an anguished groan that emanated from the bowels of a saturated Aviva stadium. It was a deeply unsatisfactory result when parsed from the perspective of the participants. Ireland looked like they were going to win for three quarters of the match and in a torrid final quarter were grateful that they didn't lose.
It was the second year in succession that the protagonists could not be separated following a 17-17 draw in the Stade de France last year. There's no doubting the honesty of effort but Ireland's shortcomings were exposed in a brutal end game. The cavalry arrived too late to make a difference.
Conditions were very difficult; a sodden surface, a swirling wind and incessant rain on a bitterly cold Dublin evening placed a huge premium on precision and accuracy. The French and Irish patterns were compromised by the elements in a game of massive collisions and an attrition rate that almost scuppered the home side.
In those dying moments they lost Eoin Reddan to a nasty looking leg injury, departing on the occasion of his 50th cap on a stretcher. Luke Marshall's bravery saw him escorted from the pitch sporting an expression that suggested he wasn't quite sure of his environment. Brian O'Driscoll departed but in typical fashion returned to man the thin green barricade.
In his absence, outstanding French number eight Louis Picamoles did exactly what his Irish counterpart Jamie Heaslip managed in the first half, to find a few millimetres under a screed of bodies to burrow his way over. The much maligned Freddie Michalak - he had been replaced as place-kicker by Morgan Parra who managed one from two attempts - kicked a conversion that most French supporters might have missed as they averted their eyes.
Michalak polarises opinion and for the majority of those who questioned how he was handed the starting jersey, they were given plenty of ammunition during the 80 minutes; he was flaky in most aspects of the game and it was difficult to escape the feeling that if Francois Trinh Duc had been the pivot then the home side would have been in a deal more trouble.
Ireland supporters were incensed when French replacement prop Vincent Debaty nudged Keith Earls with an elbow as they were locked in a three-way footrace won by Picamoles. There was contact but the television match official ruled that it was insufficient or innocuous enough not to be penalised; it was hard to disagree on the evidence of a couple of re-runs.
Ireland's injury ravaged season continued but the bravery with which the players threw themselves into collisions against physically bigger opponents was staggering to witness. In those final 20 minutes bodies were festooned across the pitch but there was no diminution in courage or commitment.
Conor Murray was awarded the man of the match accolade and he an excellent game in the 63 minutes before he was rather puzzlingly replaced by Reddan. It made no sense. Ireland coach Declan Kidney explained that the Munster scrumhalf had been fatigued but he didn't play that way. Murray's box-kicking was precise and well judged and he gave the chasers very chance to compete in the air.
He also took pressure and periodically the onus of decision making away from Paddy Jackson and allowed the young outhalf to settle into his game. Murray varied his kicking intelligently in a fine performance. Jackson deserves every plaudit that comes his way for the manner in which he struck his place-kicks, even those he missed, in atrocious kicking conditions. It says a great deal about his character; none were easy.
If this is O'Driscoll's last game in Lansdowne Road, then he signed off with a typically wholehearted and selfless display, where he once again showed his mettle. His commitment in the tackle was unwavering irrespective of the personal cost. His example was matched by Marshall and Fergus McFadden in particular. Rob Kearney looked sharp.
Up front Sean O'Brien had a marvellous game with Peter O'Mahony only a millimetre behind in a hard working display from the pack. Mike McCarthy and the excellent Cian Healy got through a prodigious workload while Heaslip led by deed as well as word for the most part. It was a gritty, uncompromising effort from the Irish eight in which all contributed handsomely.
There were a number of significant positives for Ireland in the first half, notably the lineout where Ireland won 11 of 12, which in the hugely difficult conditions was admirable. Irish hooker Rory Best and his jumpers deserve great credit, so too Donncha Ryan, who called ball intelligently.
It wasn't just a case of winning the ball but the manner in which the home side were able to make progress through the driving maul. There was one spectacular example when the home eight made fully 35 metres; it was the most impressive haul but not the only occasion Ireland managed to rack up the metres.
The scrum was quite another matter. Ireland didn't manage to win possession on a single put-in, conceding two penalties and two free-kicks. It not only denied the home side a platform but crucially it acted as a safety valve to relieve pressure for the French. Ireland had perfect field position a couple of times and the players' frustration was palpable as opportunities were lost.
Fortunately it wasn't a fatal shortcoming as the French weren't awarded a scrum in the parish of the Irish posts in those opening 40 minutes. Ireland led 13-3 at the interval, courtesy of a try from captain, Heaslip and two penalties and a conversion from outhalf Paddy Jackson. The French response came through the boot of Freddie Michalak.
Ireland initially turned things round at the scrum - Jackson's long range effort fell just short - but the visitors regained the ascendancy and Parra, taking over the kicking landed a penalty to reduce the deficit to 13-6.
Ireland were running out of steam, the physicality of the context exacting a greater toll with every hit. The French had a bench that made an impact - the one exception is Philippe Saint Andre's failure to use Trinh Duc - while Irish replacements were liberated largely down to injury. It effectively meant that some of the home pack was running on fumes in those final 10 minutes. Ian Madigan's debut was down to injury, Stephen Archer didn't get on; Iain Henderson was given three minutes.
Saint Andre's willingness to bolster his team with fresh legs meant that France were able to finish strongly and it rescued the draw. In contrast Ireland staggered to the line, battered and exhausted. The Ireland team will once again reflect of what might have been as victory slipped through their fingers. The integrity of their effort didn't suffice and now they must haul their tired limbs, for those still intact, towards another monumental clash in Rome next weekend.
13 mins: Heaslip try, Jackson conversion, 7-0; 26 mins: Michalak penalty, 7-3; 28 mins: Jackson penalty, 10-3; 31 mins: Jackson penalty, 13-3. Half-time: 13-3. 53 mins: Parra penalty, 13-6; 73 mins: Picamoles try, Michalak conversion, 13-13.
Ireland: R Kearney (Leinster); F McFadden (Leinster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster), L Marshall (Ulster), K Earls (Munster); P Jackson (Ulster), C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster); M McCarthy (Connacht), D Ryan (Munster); P O'Mahony (Munster), S O'Brien (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster, capt). Replacements: L Fitzgerald (Leinster) for McFadden 62 mins; E Reddan (Leinster) for Murray 62 mins; D O'Callaghan (Munster) for Ryan 67 mins; Murray for O'Driscoll 71-75 mins; I Madigan (Leinster) for Marshall 71 mins; I Henderson (Ulster) for O'Mahony 76 mins; S Cronin (Leinster) for Reddan 79 mins.
France: Y Huget (Toulouse); V Clerc (Toulouse), F Fritz (Toulouse), W Fofana (Clermont Auvergne), M Medard (Toulouse); F Michalak (Toulon), M Parra (Clermont Auvergne); T Domingo (Clermont Auvergne), B Kayser (Clermont Auvergne), N Mas (Perpignan); C Samson (Castres), Y Maestri (Toulouse); Y Nyanga (Toulouse), T Dusautoir (Toulouse, capt), L Picamoles (Toulouse). Replacements: S Vahaamahina (Perpignan) for Maestri 50 mins; M Bastareaud (Toulon) for Fritz 51-57 and 67 mins; V Debaty (Clermont Auvergne) for Domingo 65 mins; A Claassen (Castres) for Nyanga 65 mins; G Guirado (Perpignan) for Kayser 67 mins.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia).