Impressive individual performances decorate big collective Irish effort

Ireland 13 - 13 France

Six Nations


Date: 9 March, 2013

Venue: Aviva Stadium

Mon, Mar 11, 2013, 09:34


A much improved performance but another one that got away. There was no shame in a draw, nor in the undoubted bravery in Ireland’s increasingly battered ranks, but the frustration at expending so much effort to be denied a win they probably deserved has become an all too familiar feeling.

As the rain poured remorselessly and Irish bodies were carted off, thoughts went back to the England game four weeks before. Aside from a savage injury list, there’s a strong argument for believing that Ireland would have been better served with dry days for their home contests against the two heavyweight sides of the competition.

That said, Ireland put many of the lessons learned against England to good use. Whereas they possibly played too much rugby that day, here they wasted comparatively little time in exiting from their own territory, with Conor Murray’s varied kicking game bang on the money. The chasing from the wholehearted Fergus McFadden, Keith Earls and co was also sharper.

The collective effort was studded with huge individual games. Cian Healy, Donnacha Ryan, Sean O’Brien and Peter O'Mahony (probably Ireland's player of the tournament) were outstanding as usual, while Jamie Heaslip was an inspiring leader. Paddy Jackson looked the part – landing a fine conversion and two 47 metre penalties – as again did Luke Marshall. Rob Kearney was back to his best too.

In addition to his kicking, Murray was superbly physical around the fringes. Eoin Reddan was unlucky to see a box kick hit the corner flag and spin over the touch-in-goal line and didn’t play at all badly before his day ended so cruelly, but it was still hard to fathom why Murray was withdrawn after 62 minutes.

Up front, the pack rolled up their sleeves and got down and dirty. The lineout, with shortened variations, worked much better – yielding 14 of 16 more accurate throws by Rory Best – and providing the platform for a potent maul.

Having earlier rumbled 40 metes down field it yielded a seven-pointer when O’Brien, Mike McCarthy, Mike Ross and the ball-carrying Heaslip peeled off the front.

Ireland were full value for their 13-3 interval lead and after Jackson had just missed another long-range penalty, had the chance to probably win the game when laying siege from a Murray tap penalty and charge. Half a dozen phases later, Heaslip took the ball into contact with Best, Brian O’Driscoll and Earls outside against an isolated Vincent Clerc. That was the moment. Five phases later, Jackson couldn’t get a drop goal away and Ireland's best chance had gone.

Ireland had the maul for the occasion if not the scrum. In a nutshell, it was the scrum which cost Ireland a win. Roared on by their huge travelling army, supplemented by a powerful bench and drawing strength from their potent scrum, and in their desperation to salvage something from their campaign, France were always going to come into the game at some stage.

Following chants of Allez les Bleus , Thomas Domingo and Benjamin Kayser put the squeeze on Ross, forcing him to pop, and to the backdrop of La Marseillaise , Morgan Parra unerringly landed a 45 metre penalty to make it a one-score game. Allez les Bleus reverberated around the ground once more, and the psychic energy shifted tangibly.

Even so, Ireland were keeping France at arm’s length until the game shifted when Kearney sliced his kick into touch to unduly reward another poor kick by Frederic Michalak – the kick had been roundly booed by the French fans. In the ensuing attack, both Marshall and O’Driscoll were taken out of the game when injured in bringing down replacements Antonie Claassen and Vincent Debaty.

In the following sequence of scrums, referee Steve Walsh (who did Mike Ross no favours) wrongly awarded a turnover wheeled scrum on the Irish put-in, ordered a re-set when Debaty clearly popped up, and then a French penalty from which the phenomenal Louis Picamoles was awarded a slightly questionable touchdown. Michalak landed a pressure conversion.

Penalised a dozen times in Twickenham by Craig Joubert, France conceded just five penalties here (as compared to nine by Ireland) and the penalty count in the last 35 minutes was 5-1 to France. Yet when Picamoles followed up his own score to save a try from Reddan’s kick through, Earls was clearly impeded nudged off the ball by Debaty.

Having gone to the television match official Nigel Whitehouse, Walsh, on viewing the big screen replays himself, said to him “I’m pretty comfortably with the shoulder to shoulder running”, which was entirely outside protocol. Whitehouse concurred, but it should have been an Irish penalty.

In any event, it would have been curious to see how an Irish backline might have lined out had there been one more set-piece, although one doubts the Irish management would have found it amusing.

Even before Reddan was stretchered off before the game's last play, the double whammy of losing both centres simultaneously in the 72nd minute, just before the French equalising try, had left the Irish backline with Reddan at scrum-half, a midfield of converted out-half Ian Madigan on debut, alongside Earls (who'd shifted in from the wing) with Murray as Ireland’s third right-winger of the day on the opposite flank to Luke Fitzgerald.

In other words, only Paddy Jackson and Rob Kearney of the Irish backline finished in the positions they started. Although O’Driscoll returned, after Reddan’s departure Madigan stepped in to scrum-half with Sean Cronin on as an emergency replacement for Reddan.

To say they looked a little patchwork would be an understatement.

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