Humphreys exorcises his ghosts

 

Personal redemption. David Humphreys was afforded the opportunity to exorcise the ghosts of Lansdowne Road 1999, when his penalty attempt shaved the wrong side of a post and victory was denied. Stade de France 2000 and fate decreed an opportunity to banish the heartache.

One penalty kick, one chance, the hopes of a nation, 28 years of emotional baggage. No pressure then. Humphreys laughed: "I didn't stand over the ball too long. I'm not going to tell you lies. Last year came back to me. I just said, `look I have been here before and it's not going to happen twice'. Thankfully it didn't. There was a silent prayer. It went `please Lord let this go between the posts'. And it did.

"When it went over, I was just thinking that after last year, that's something erased. It was just fantastic. The ref told me that there was six minutes left so I knew there was still time for them to come back at us. It was really a matter of keeping them out of our half, whatever it took: get the clock running down and I think that's what happened at the end. I think the relief of the kick going over was probably much more real at the end of the match.

"The final whistle? Pure relief and that warm feeling from the kick going over."

If anyone deserved a chance to rewrite history then it was the Dungannon outhalf, his performance on introduction every bit as high-quality and assured as his previous cameo against Scotland. No one blamed Humphreys for Lansdowne Road '99, but the player himself must have been glad to have done something to banish those painful memories.

The manner of Ireland's victory gave the players great satisfaction. "Against Scotland and Italy we did try and run the ball, against England we couldn't because they were so good," Humphreys explained. "The last two weeks have been good. The press had been saying that it was easy to do it against poor sides but we came in with the attitude against the French that we weren't going to change it for anything.

"I think you saw what the guys, O'Driscoll, can do . . . I don't think you are going to find anyone better than him in the world at the minute and today he proved it. Everybody worked very hard, there's no one can just throw in the odd pass. We were very good at working and supporting. There were plenty of mistakes but who cares when you win."

Ireland captain Keith Wood summed up the elation of the players at the final whistle, as they skipped back to the dressingroom after 100 curtain calls for ecstatic Irish supporters. When asked to describe the victory on the stadium public address by a French interviewer Wood offered: "Je suis tres fatigue but, woohoo."

Irish coach Warren Gatland summed up his feelings in the immediate aftermath. "Pretty pleasing, it was a great day for Irish rugby. We'll enjoy ourselves tonight and I'm pretty sure there's a few Irish people back at home enjoying themselves in pubs at the moment. It was a great day and I think it will take 24 hours to settle in.

"I'm delighted for the players. I think we'll just enjoy ourselves tonight." Was he surprised by the victory? "I think we came here two years ago and caught the French by surprise. Last year in Dublin we had a kick to win it and missed. I think we were under a lot of pressure early on, in the first 15 minutes. It took us that long to come to terms with the pace of the play.

"We were saying in the stand that we just needed to get into the game if we could. By half-time we were reasonably happy, we just wanted to keep the ball in hand and keep some phases going. The last 10 minutes I think we sent out the message that we can play rugby. The French looked as if they were tiring, out on their feet. We felt that if we could put them under pressure, we had a chance.

"When things are going well for you, when there's a bit of confidence, you get the bounce of a ball. Today we got the bounce of the ball on a couple of occasions and were lucky enough to come away with the win."

So what did he do for Humphreys' penalty? "He said to me that he said a little prayer and so did I."

Gatland added: "I thought one player to play well was Peter Clohessy. He had an outstanding 80 minutes. The scrum was under pressure but he kept working hard. The two players I'd like to highlight are Peter Clohessy and Mick Galwey and the contribution they've made to Irish rugby in their careers.

"We said before the match that it was probably the last time they were going to be here in Paris. They would never have an opportunity to beat the French again in Paris. I was absolutely delighted for those two players in particular."

When asked to place this victory in the context of his career, Wood enthused: "Being on the winning team with the Lions was my greatest rugby achievement, that probably has to change over the last six weeks.

"My biggest honour was always to captain Ireland. Nine games without a win is pretty hard to take. This time around, it's been an awful lot better. The couple of months have been brilliant."

It encapsulated Irish rugby's latest incarnation perfectly.