No red roses for Ireland as France show us no love

TV View: Pundits all dressed up but nowhere to go as Valentine’s Day match-up fizzles out

The overwhelming temptation in those closing moments might have been to take shelter behind a cushion and just beseech the heavens that Dave McIntyre would suddenly declare: "IT'S SPINNING, IT'S SPINNING!" And if it proved to be kind of February 2018 all over again, the nation would have sent Ross Byrne enough red roses for him to open his own branch of Interflora.

It wasn’t to be, France showing us no love at all by leaving us in a Wooden Spoon scrap with Italy, suggesting that if Irish rugby fans thought 2021 could only be an improvement on 2020, they were severely wrong.

The afternoon had started positively, too, with Ronan O’Gara joining Virgin Media from France via Skype, him showing no end of respect to the occasion by wearing a shirt and tie rather than, say, appearing in a dressing gown and hair curlers as most of us do on these online meetie-uppie thingies.

"Can Ireland beat France?" Joe Molloy asked him.

Yes, insisted Ronan, all that was required was "discipline, patience, pressure", with a little bit of "dog and desperation" thrown in. That was a lengthy list of big asks, not least because, as Joe reminded him, this would be the first time in 10 years that an Irish side contained neither Johnny Sexton nor Conor Murray. Which would be akin to ABBA being without both Agnetha and Frida.

Buoyant mood

Ronan's confidence contrasted sharply with the buoyant mood of Benjamin Kayser over on ITV, the former French international highly hopeful that Ireland would meet their Waterloo. "France are reliable – which is a word we never thought we'd use about them," he said, echoing Forrest Gump that time he said, "Life is like the French rugby team – you never know what you're gonna get."

While Benjamin and Gareth Thomas were in the ITV studio, Brian O'Driscoll and Rory Best were Skyping in from home, neither of them wearing a tie – although, in fairness, they weren't sporting dressing gowns or hair curlers either. BOD does, though, have gold door handles in his house, something we would never have known but for the pandemic, so there's an upside to everything.

Back at Virgin, Matt Williams didn't quite share Ronan's hopefulness, reckoning France would prevail, while Eoin Reddan's heart was battling with his head when it came to prediction time. It was sort of a score draw in the end.

Ronan had the look of a man who wanted to change into his dressing gown and hair curlers and binge-watch any old stuff on Netflix just to erase the afternoon from his head

To summarise the first half: after the invisible crowd bellowed Amhrán na bhFiann, which seemed to spook the bejaysus out of Cian Healy, Ireland had a promising start to the game and would have been laughing if James Lowe's try hadn't been disallowed. But then Charles Ollivon rounded off a French move that was more lovely than any work of art you'd ever see in the Louvre, and they went in 10-3 at half-time.

Ronan’s bottom lip was quivering a bit, the only wonder that he had any hair left on his head having, presumably, been tempted to remove it strand by strand, such was his frustration over Ireland failing to make good use of their ample possession.

Flushing all hope

Second half and, just as we were flushing all hope down the loo, Ireland 3-15 down, Rónan Kelleher only went and made a reasonable impact after coming on as a sub, scoring a try within seconds of planting his boots on the pitch. Chuck in Byrne’s conversion, 13-15, and the nation held its breath waiting for the “IT’S SPINNING, IT’S SPINNING!” moment.

No matter.

As postmortems go, Virgin’s was generally positive, which you can’t always say about postmortems. “They tried their guts out,” said Matt, who saluted the boys for almost not losing. Eoin, meanwhile, mentioned “helicopter views” so often you’d have been wondering if he was sponsored by Choppers Inc, his belief being that if you looked down on the Irish team from very high up, things weren’t too bad at all.

Ronan, though, had the look of a man who wanted to change into his dressing gown and hair curlers and binge-watch any old stuff on Netflix just to erase the afternoon from his head. He did, though, doff his cap to “joué, joué” France.

“They do joué, as Ronan said,” Eoin noted. “When are we going to joué?” asked Joe. “Soon,” Matt hoped. “We’re progressing,” Joe wondered. “Yes,” said Eoin, “it’s a big helicopter view.”

Look, cheer up, there’s always someone worse off. Take Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic. She spent 14 days in quarantine in a Melbourne hotel, bored out of her skull, and then lasted 44 minutes in the Australian Open thanks to a 6-0, 6-0 hammering by Ash Barty. Her helicopter view of the last fortnight? None. Her head is SPINNING, SPINNING. She most probably never wants to joué again.