Rugby:NOW COMES the tricky part. Ireland's disappointment at failing to close out a 17-6 interval lead for a first win in Paris since 2000 will be compounded by injury concerns – especially to Conor Murray – and a six-day turnaround before facing the fast-improving Scots in the Aviva Stadium next Saturday.
Whereas the Scots had their feet up and watched on with interest, the Irish squad hurriedly made off to Charles de Gaulle airport, with the Irish scrumhalf on crutches, though not suffering the kind of damage it had initially appeared when stretchered off in the 59th minute.
“In Conor’s case he probably hyper extended his knee so the first indications are not as bad as they might first have looked on TV. The main ligaments appear to be okay, and we’ll see what the scans say over the next day or two. But with everyone else it’s going to take a day or two to settle down. Obviously that’s one of the challenges of a six day turnaround. We just need to get on a flight and make an assessment when we get home,” said Ireland coach Declan Kidney.
While the initial bulletin was relatively encouraging, and the length of Murray’s absence will depend on the results of those scans, it would be very surprising if the 22-year-old Munster scrum-half is fit to play against Scotland.
The feeling that this was one that got away was palpable for both coach and the captain Paul O’Connell. Even allowing for a Sunday fixture, the extent to which the crowd (surprisingly near the 80,000 capacity, though with a tiny, much reduced Irish presence) were kept quiet was a measure of Ireland’s first-half display, even if the increased noise levels were also a barometer of France’s comeback.
Ireland employed a much more aggressive rush defence, which knocked the French out of their stride, with tour de force performances from Stephen Ferris, O’Connell and Seán O’Brien, not to mention a truly phenomenal display of catching, kicking (with one costly exception) and running from Rob Kearney.
They also attacked the blindside more and, allowing for that one exception, kick-chased to good effect, all of which yielded fourth and fifth tries of the championship for Tommy Bowe before half-time.
But the rain arrived and, as one suspected, the French went route one to good effect to draw level before the hour. Each team had spells of high octane pressure, Ireland eschewing a drop goal whereas Lionel Beauxis failed with two as Ireland defended heroically.
Thus, no less than the French and perhaps even slightly more so, Ireland were left rueing a first draw with Les Bleus since the championship winning year of 1985 and first in Paris since 1950, and their first of any kind since the 20-20 draw with Australia in Croke Park in November 2009.
“I’m disappointed for the lads really,” admitted Kidney. “They put in a huge effort. As I said to them afterwards I was proud of them. I couldn’t be asking any more. I’m proud of the fact that we believed in ourselves just to go out play our own game.
“We didn’t try to do something extraordinary and cough up easy scores. If you’re not disappointed when you don’t win you shouldn’t be in the job.”
“It’s different from three years ago,” he added. “This is not the Grand Slam side of three years ago. There’s seven or eight changes in the side now and we’re having to learn a few things along the way, and we didn’t panic in the second-half, which I was happy with. We did a lot of things well, and the more you do well the more disappointing it is when you don’t close it out. They’re the bits we need to work on.”
When the rain began to fall before half-time, Kidney said they knew what France might resort to, but it was one thing knowing and another thing stopping pick-and-go tactics given the game’s stricter interpretation of the hindmost foot offside line around the fringes.
“In the first half they were inclined to go wide, in the second half they put it up the jumper and with the laws the way they are now that’s an area we’ll take a good look at and see what technique we can use to get the ball back to us,” said Kidney.
O’Connell echoed these sentiments and made reference to Dave Pearson’s one-sided second-half penalty count of six-one, thereby making it 11-4 to France overall.
“Certainly, there’s a big feeling of a defeat, of an opportunity lost. We scored one intercept try and one really well-worked try, (but) conceded a really soft, poor try. We’re very disappointed with our second-half performance.
“We turned over the ball a few times. I’m not sure what the penalty count was – I think it was six-one (in the second-half) and it’s very difficult to compete in those circumstances. So very frustrated and very disappointed.”
Kidney told RTÉ Radio after the match that he was “disgusted” by the penalty-count.
Like any side in Ireland’s position, O’Connell said they had targeted scoring first in the second half, only to lament not scoring at all after half-time: “Obviously France are very good side, they were World Cup finalists, and very nearly won the World Cup, and they were obviously going to come out hard at us as well.
“Unfortunately they got the first score. But even with the periods of pressure we did have, if we had got any score at all, even a penalty, it would have given us a big lift.”