Inept Ireland embarrassed in Paris mauling
ANOTHER visit to Paris and another blow more deadly than any previously inflicted on an Ireland team in the history of the International Championship by any opposition.
It was not the last tango in Paris for Ireland, but last Saturday Ireland played for the last time at Parc des Princes and there was no variation on the recurring trend since Ireland first played at this ground in 1974.
With each succeeding visit to Paris in recent years it has been comprehensive defeat, this time another unwanted entry went into the chronicle of the game as France won by 45 points to 10.
The expectation before this match from an Irish perspective was not one of victory, but that Ireland would give a performance that embraced quality and offer encouragement. We left the scene with depression deeply rooted.
For some in the side it could be the end of the international road for this was one dreadful performance too many. The hopes engendered by wins over Fiji and the United States have proved to be based on a false premise.
The traditional elements so crucial to Irish teams through the years, immense pride and unbridled passion, lay dormant. The sooner they are rekindled the better, and the need is urgent.
The further this game progressed the greater one's fears grew that a beating of record proportions was in the offing. Those fears were realised, and as the score mounted in France's favour one wished that somehow time would fly by to save further humiliation.
In the Irish context this was yet another very poor advertisement for the alleged benefits to be gained from deeper involvement in commercial enterprise.
France had the strength, the belief, the pace and the ingenuity. Ireland's defeat yet again had its origins in going behind early - they were 12 points down by the 20th minute. And while that scoreline flattered France, thereafter they played the game their way, with a control that suggested they believed the ball was their ally.
"Ruck and run" was the stated policy of the Irish team. The rucking by Ireland was dreadful, the running was mostly chasing shadows, with all the futility of such an exercise. Invariably there was always support for the French ball carrier, and when they took it away from the forward exchanges to penetrate the Irish defence the options were available on either side.
Ireland regularly spilled the ball, threw out misguided and poor passes and took wrong options. Hard won possession was surrendered and the French accepted it gratefully and put it to the best possible use. Time after time indecision in their own 25 yard area proved costly.
The problems did not lie in failure to win possession in the set pieces, it lay firmly in a total inability to protect it and to use it properly. Even allowing for the French flair and perception, Ireland at times made it easy for their opponents. There were occasions when the ball was won out of touch and Ireland lost yards of ground instead of having a platform to attack. The hope that the changes made after the defeat by Scotland would bring considerable improvement was not realised. The team selection was well received: it was faith badly misplaced.
The French have reason to be pleased with many aspects of their play, their handling skills, their counter attacking, their ball retention and ability to punish error. But they would not have been able to indulge themselves in a similar manner against a side, of any real quality.
There were few aspects of Ireland's play after the opening, quarter that one could say were even adequate. Jeremy Davidson and Victor Costello did some good work, David Corkery had a most ineffective afternoon and the back row as a collective unit, was not in the same league as their opponents nor up to the task on hand.
When an Irish forward tried to drive, it was invariably done in, isolation and the rucking and mauling offered no platform or put any pressure on the French. Nick Popplewell is way below the level of his great days and the same can be said of Terry Kingston.
It was a most unhappy day for Peter Clohessy. He at times, ball in hand, tried to drive at the French but to little avail and his stamp on Olivier Roumat subsequently carried its own punishment. Gabriel Fulcher and Jeremy Davidson won some line out ball, but it was ill used. Paddy Johns return to the second row did not correspond with a performance of any depth.
Niall Hogan had a very indifferent game at serum half even allowing for some of the problems outside his control. David Humphreys, who made a few mistakes but in the circumstances did not play at all badly, was extremely unlucky, too, with a dropped goal attempt in the third minute.
France then built up a 17 point lead as Phillipe Saint Andre got a try after 11 minutes when France won a line out as the prelude to the score and then opened the Ireland defence with a well paced chip.
A high kick from outside half Thomas Castaignede that Jim Staples failed to gather paved the way for the second try scored, by Emille N'Tamack and that was converted by Castaignede to make the score 12-0 and already Ireland faced a mountain.
By the 30th minute France struck again as Richard Caste forced his way over the Irish line and while Humphreys kicked a penalty, just before half time Castaignede made a superb break and with Ireland struggling to contain the subsequent assault, Guy Accoceberry got a try under the posts, Castaignede converted and it was 24-3. We awaited the second half with trepidation.
Staples had to go off at half time. Like so many more he had given a very indifferent performance. Niall Woods got no chance in attack but he defended well at times and generally emerged with credit. Yet again Jonathan Bell failed to deliver either in the centre or at full back where he moved after Staples went off and Maurice Field came on in the centre. Kurt McQuilkin had a very indifferent outing as did Richard Wallace.
As the second half progressed more French tries came. N'Tamack got the first of the second period, Caste added his second and Cam pan got France's seventh try. Castaignede converted all three and Ireland trailed 45-3 as the game entered injury time.
Ireland were then awarded a penalty try for deliberate obstruction on Hogan. Humphreys converted and Ireland had scored a try for the first time in Paris since 1980.
On the recent evidence this Ireland team has gone backwards since the World Cup and the new age of payment. It is fortunate for Ireland players it is not payment for performance.
The last journey from Parc des Princes was made with a heavy heart and did not even offer the small consolation of a glimmer of optimism that anything but the hope that the indignity of a whitewash can he avoided.