Revelling in role reversal

 

It was a beautiful spring day in Paris, exactly the sort of day with the type of conditions which in previous years France would have exploited to hammer home early on, to unsettle the Irish, get possession and make it count.

Quite the contrary yesterday. While France put pressure on, particularly in the early stages of the game, Ireland lived with it very well indeed. The scoreline tells the story. They had one converted try and six penalties, while Ireland scored three tries.

Obviously my first feelings after the game are that this is a wonderful victory for Ireland, the first in Paris since 1972. I don't remember any player getting three tries against France. Obviously it was an outstanding performance from Brian O'Driscoll.

It's a hugely significant win for the team too. France, along with England, are up there with the top rugby playing nations in the world. Before this people had been saying we could only beat Scotland and Wales, and for the most part that's been quite true. This is a landmark in that it has consolidated the confidence and the position that Ireland have built over the last number of games.

If you look at the two backlines, it was the opposite of they way it has been in previous years. Ireland had more inventive players, who were able to run at the French and cause them all sorts of problems, while France struggled, particularly Ntamack and the outhalf.

Ireland had very good running from Henderson in the centre, great running from Hickie on the wing and O'Driscoll's play was simply outstanding. I think that he is fast becoming the player of the tournament. He's absolutely lethal in loose ball situations. If he gets any space at all he's devastating running at a defence.

Hickie too is a player who I believe you cannot leave off an Irish team. His confidence is high and he has the pace to unsettle teams when he runs at them. He also showed how inventive he can be when he is playing well.

I thought Dawson had a good game, as did Clohessy in the front row, and Dempsey also played very well. Stringer too was crucial. I think the contribution he has made to the team has been underestimated. His crisp, sharp delivery gives the outside backs an extra yard or two, and that is invaluable to any team.

It also has to be said that outhalves Ronan O'Gara and David Humphreys are both exceptionally good players. Humphreys is competitive and, as I've said before, mentally tough. There is great irony in the fact that last year he attempted a crucial penalty and literally missed by inches. That kick would have given Ireland their first victory against France in many years. The same player was the guy to stand up yesterday in Paris and plant the ball between the posts. It's testimony to Humphreys that he is able to do it. He's a great player to have available to come onto a pitch.

Another important element is that the team have been consistently good rather than patchy, and their fitness appears to be much better. They were still going strong in the last 10 or 15 minutes.

The defence was also solid, very tight and well organised. With the exception of the England match, this has been one of the features of Ireland's play over the last few games.

If you look at the French team, they picked Benazzi at openside wing forward and as a result I thought they lacked mobility. The one fear I had was that France would try to disrupt Ireland by moving the ball all around the place. But with all the injuries they ended up with a disjointed team. The loss of Magne was also important, in fact probably the most significant blow to them.

It is also the fifth game in a row France have lost in Stade de France. You'd almost think they might quickly consider getting back to Parc de Princes. It used to be an invincible location. Now France have lost to Australia, Scotland and Wales last year, to England in this year's championship and now to Ireland. Everyone really.

France were strong in the pack, but with no mobility it was to Ireland's advantage because at this stage Ireland have a good tight five who were every bit as good as them. Ireland also had the confidence of two wins. The players would have felt that.

Certainly France threatened at times to score and run away with the game, but Ireland's defence was well-organised and they really kept France at bay for the whole time. At all times Ireland were hanging in there. France's big problem was that they never really managed to get clear at any stage.

(In an interview with Johnny Watterson)