France's head coach Fabien Galthie exuded a quiet satisfaction as he sifted through his thoughts in the wake of a helter-skelter tussle at the Stade de France. Victory allows a more philosophical appraisal so the fact that the home side prevailed 30-24 in a game they might have lost will make for an easier review.
The French dominance in the first half might have been rewarded to a much greater extent but for some gutsy Irish defence, but with a 19-7 lead that the home side extended to 22-7 on 43 minutes, they seemed set to kick on for a comfortable win that reflected their dominance to that point. But as Galthie acknowledged afterwards, Ireland are a good side and the fact that they came back to trail by just a single point didn’t surprise him.
“That was tough; we had a tough as teak adversary even if that does not surprise us,” said Galthie. “It is a beautiful victory which we went after with all we had in the locker. Even if we lacked maturity in our replacements, we had a moment when we were treading water, but the replacements [eventually] brought the energy in what we required.
“We received the Irish well, we welcomed them well, now we are going to recuperate and have to go away twice.”
He was asked about the praise he had lavished on Ireland in the build-up to the game and whether it was a motivational tool for his players. “Well I think that the comments about the Irish team are more than deserved. They play the rugby that people talk about.
“We have our own beliefs. We prepared to play against this particular opponent, we knew we had to be ready and bring our level higher [than last week] in every aspect of the game. We had anticipated that things might not go the way we wanted but if we were able to find a balance between the various aspects of our strategy we would be competitive and that is exactly what happened.
Galthie was asked about why his team had allowed Ireland back into the game in much the same way they had against New Zealand in November.
“When you play that sort of team you have to accept that sometimes we have a weak moment but we have to limit the damage. Sometimes that impact can be very hard.
“That’s exactly what happened against the All Blacks and that’s what happened again today. But we were able to take control again and have the upper hand in conditions that were physically, psychologically, statistically [challenging]; like the All Blacks but with a different opponent.
“However one might say we organise ourselves the same way in the last 30 minutes of the match and that is a good thing because we won and that’s very positive. That’s very, very positive. There is also the collective experience as a team that is improving. It shows that the team’s confidence is developing.
“In the first half we may have neglected the collision aspects. We got carried away and were too numerous in the rucks. Maybe we moved away from our initial strategic plan in the second half because we were in high spirits due to the quality of the game.”
French captain Antoine Dupont started and finished the first try of the match, taking a quick lineout, as Ireland switched off. "I had the ball in my hands and no one was [initially] available, but I thought I am not going to wait for everyone to reposition themselves to play. We just wanted to stretch our legs; I went for it and everyone followed, which means I made the right decision."
French right wing Damian Penaud also expressed satisfaction at a hard-won game. "We were expecting a real tough battle. We said we could not leave anything out there. It was a real arm wrestle for 80 minutes but we stayed solidly at our task.
“There was an amazing spirit and we are delighted. We began the second half really badly, but the key word is that we stuck to our task and did not panic. We never doubted ourselves for a single moment. We kept our heads and that was our strength in the final moments.”