French count the cost of defeat as players sidelined by injury
Jacques Brunel acknowledges Ireland’s effort and match-winning drop goal by Sexton
Ireland’s Bundee Aki is tackled by France’s Matthieu Jalibert of France in the Six Nations round one match on Saturday. Jalibert partially ruptured a knee ligament in the tackle. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
The morning after the night before felt no better for Jacques Brunel and the French squad. While there could be some consolation in a much more spirited performance, the anti-climactic and deflating nature of a seventh successive defeat in his first match as head coach still made for no easy viewing or analysis.
“This morning the screenplay of the game is has cruel as it was yesterday,” said Brunel on Sunday morning. “Even when Anthony Belleau missed the last penalty, I was convinced that we were going to win the game. We should have been more watchful when Sexton kicked the restart. It was obvious that they were going to try to get the ball back. But he sent it right in the space which was unmarked.”
That said, Brunel was also quick to acknowledge Ireland’s pitch-length drive and the quality of the match-winning drop goal by Johnny Sexton.
“But even then, to manage to keep the ball in play for 41 phases is monumental. And then to kick a drop goal from 45 metres. I didn’t think it could happen, and you have to congratulate Ireland and Sexton for what they have achieved.”
Brunel could take some solace in the competitiveness of his team, who went into the game as 5/2 underdogs and were given little hope of a victory by the French media and public alike.
“I think we managed to disrupt a little bit their organisation. But Ireland are really effective in the conservation of the ball, with always one or two players very close to the ball carrier. We were also beaten too many times in the rucks. They slowed our balls well and we couldn’t get any momentum. We also conceded at least two or three silly penalties.
“But we defended well. They did not break us. We showed a lot of spirit. Ireland are ranked three and we are nine, but I don’t think that the gap between us is that wide.”
Pending medical reports on France’s casualties during the game on what proved to be fairly treacherous conditions, despite the pitch holding up well, Brunel had speculated on Saturday evening that “probably we’re going to pay a very high price for this loss”.
And so it proved on Sunday.
The 21-year-old Toulouse scrum-half Antoine Dupont, who was winning only his seventh cap and had only been on the pitch for 10 minutes as a replacement for Maxime Machenaud, has been ruled out for the remainder of the season with a knee ligament injury. (This was also despite referee Nigel Owens being informed at the time that Dupont was leaving the pitch for an HIA).
“There were collisions, but the head injury protocol was decided by the independent doctor; it wasn’t our decision,” Brunel maintained on Saturday night. “The players had knee injuries, but the independent doctor decided that by the protocol.”
We defended a lot, showed solidarity and a good state of mind. We believed we had the match so it’s even tougher to lose it afterward
Furthermore, the Six Nations is probably over for the 19-year-old debutant out-half Matthieu Jalibert, who suffered a partial rupture of the ligament in his left knee following a knee-to-knee clash with Bundee Aki half an hour into the game.
“He will be absent for at least a month or two,” said Brunel.
Away to Scotland
The Bordeaux flanker Kevin Gourdon, who was playing at number eight, has also been ruled out of France’s game away to Scotland next Sunday.
In their stead, Brunel has called up the 32-year-old Lionel Beauxis six years after he won his 20th and last cap. The 31-year-old Louis Picamoles (68 caps) returns in place of Gourdon after being omitted from the original squad, while Beauxis’s half-back partner at Lyon, the uncapped 20-year-old Baptiste Couilloud, linked up with the French squad at their Marcoussis base for the first time on Sunday night.
The French captain, Guilhem Guirado, admitted his side had “probably lacked a bit of discipline. We defended a lot, showed solidarity and a good state of mind. We believed we had the match so it’s even tougher to lose it afterwards.”
“It’s clearly not a strategy,” he added when asked about the near 70-30 split in possession. “It’s better to have the ball and know what you’re going to do with it rather than defend. But the Irish team put a lot of pressure on us with their kicking game especially.”