L’Equipe salute brave French performance but hail Ireland as best team in the tournament
France gracious in defeat as no one prepared to argue that Schmidt’s men did not deserve their victory
Towards the end, cuts were opening up with a regularity that called to mind the Paris Commune of 1871.
On the day of the game, L’Equipe had called for a heavily-criticised French team to revolt. They did not disappoint.
“The heart was there” read Sunday’s front-page headline in the same paper, accompanied by a photo of Mathieu Bastareaud bursting through four Irish players. “Let’s be accurate,” an editorial said. “The best team – the most mature, the most balanced, the calmest, the best organised and by far – won this match and the tournament.”
The editorial praised France for their courage and willingness to put bodies on the line. Nicolas Mas went off with his arm in a sling, Thomas Domingo was hauled off after being demolished in the scrum and in the second half Brice Dulin was clattered in the air by both Rob Kearney and Andrew Trimble.
At one stage the busy Maxime Machenaud dumped Rory Best upside down so it was a surprise when he was withdrawn with battle still raging.
But both the French coach Philippe Saint-André and the scrum half himself confirmed that he was a victim of the frenzied nature of the contest. “I had cramp,” Machenaud said.
His replacement Jean-Marc Doussain had the first chance to win the game for France with ten minutes left. But to the crowd’s dismay, his penalty attempt drifted off target.
“I missed it,” he said. “Simple as that. Like Jonathan Sexton missed this evening . . . So it’s definitely difficult to have missed this penalty. I’ll take the blame.”
Machenaud, was the only player who had a 100 per cent success rate with his kicks.
Despite his kicking troubles, Sexton received the top mark of 8 out of 10 in L’Equipe .
“No one could say that Jonathan Sexton lacks courage,” it stated. “The Irish out half was often targeted by Mathieu Bastareaud but he never escaped him. In open play, his distribution was of a class that he’s only shown with irregularity in the Top 14.”
Paul O’Connell received the same score, with the paper describing him as being “monstrous” throughout the game.
Montpellier coach Fabien Galthié wrote in L’Equipe that finishing fourth is not good enough for France – all the more so, he said, given that the country has 500,000 registered players and two professional divisions.
In general though, there was a sense that French pride had been restored. But no one argued that Ireland did not merit their victory.