Sports Review 2018: Here’s Johnny! Sexton’s drop of gold snatches victory in Paris

Grand Slam campaign was about to be holed below the waterline until ‘Le Drop’

 Johnny Sexton celebrates with Bundee Aki after scoring the match-winning  drop goal. Photograph:  Getty Images

Johnny Sexton celebrates with Bundee Aki after scoring the match-winning drop goal. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Six Nations: France 13 Ireland 15 - February 3rd, Stade de France, Paris

“Would you go back please!”

“But I’m the captain,” Johnny Sexton informs referee Nigel Owens.

Moments later the French scrummagers cry with joy. In squeezing John Ryan up and out of the scrum, they have won this test match in the Paris rain. It’s all but over. Anthony Belleau simply needs to clip the penalty for a 16-12 lead with two minutes and change remaining.

Johnny Sexton catches the miscued strike and runs to the 22, where he stalls, dips and drops off to the left.

Iain Henderson cuts the flight path into Teddy Thomas’ killer hands, and so begins eight minutes of pure torture, of flawless rugby, revealing a plot hatched on the Carton House paddock over and over these past five winters. Conor Murray and Sexton patiently creep play up to halfway but the blue line holds so with the clock in the red Sexton decides to kick for the right wing where Keith Earls makes a spectacular catch before hop stepping into French territory.

Fergus McFadden’s cameo - a one-two with Murray and perfect ruck clear out two minutes into injury time - deserves a special mention for creating two metres straight from Joe Schmidt’s imagination.

Sexton’s first hint of dropping into the pocket comes after 26 phases. He decides to wait, decides to trust in Henderson finding some key yards, that Jack McGrath will barrel the ruck and Ryan will arch over man and ball, that CJ Stander will roll another few feet, that Peter O’Mahony and Sean Cronin will replicate the actions of McGrath and Ryan. That Murray will know the moment has come. The crisp pass to Sexton, who stands to the left of centre, provides enough time for clean contact from 42 metres after 42 phases.

The Interstellar theme music and French commentary version of Sexton’s drop goal will forever remain YouTube gold.

“Oooo la laaa Jon-ath-an Sextooooooooonn.”

‘Cruel Mais Justice’ was how L’Equipe’s front page branded the game.

Cruel but justice.

Low point

That same February week Ireland captain Rory Best and Iain Henderson used their day off to attend the rape trial in Belfast. A decision, which Best stands over, dragged Irish rugby from their much valued cocoon outside Maynooth into the national spotlight. Opinion on this island about that decision was and remains deeply divided.

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