Tullow Tank epitomises mighty spirit that humbled France

Heroic team paid dearly in blood, sweat and tears for an epic victory

One of the more eccentric Irish flags in Cardiff bore the message “There’s a crane gone up in Carlow – the boom is back.” We’ll return to that in a moment. But on a famous day for Irish rugby, it was a human bulldozer from Carlow, not a crane, who epitomised the spirit that saw an Irish team humble a major European power for the second time this week.

If anything, Sean O'Brien – aka the Tullow Tank – was a little too belligerent: his punch to the stomach of Pascal Pape looks likely to attract the attentions of a citing commissioner.

Even so, his gut-bursting runs and dervish-like tackling were at the heart of a battling Irish performance that means they avoid New Zealand, for now, and instead face a quarter final against Argentina next weekend. The win also means they have an extra 17 hours to recover. And after this bruising encounter, they’ll need every one of them.

Before the game, there were only superficial similarities between Irish sport’s “Super Sunday” and the Battle of Waterloo, an event that also happened on the Lord’s day and that pitched a large number of Irish troops against French and Polish opposition.

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Well-prepared Waterloo

But the resemblance deepened during a brutal first half in which two of Ireland’s main leaders, Sexton and O’Connell, had to leave the battlefield, not to return, as a ferociously disciplined French onslaught finally succeeded in making coach Philippe Saint-Andre look like Napoleon.

Alas for him, though he wasn't pitting his wits against the Duke of Wellington, he was up against Joe Schmidt: a dude from Wellington (or near enough). And again, Schmidt appeared to have prepared his team for all contingencies.

They answered every question France asked, even if they had to dig deeper for some of the replies than they were used to. Then, when it didn’t seem possible, they turned up the intensity midway through the second half, and France wilted.

The full cost of the performance is as yet unknown. Maybe it will prove a Wellingtonian adage: that next to a battle lost, the worst thing is a battle won. If so, Ian Madigans’s tears at the final whistle might have been prophetic. But nobody in Cardiff was worrying about Argentina, or anything beyond, last night: celebrating one epic performance was enough.

What’s with the crane?

The flag with the crane message was not from Carlow, as it happened. It was the handiwork of a 22-strong group from Templetuohy in

Tipperary

. They just saw the crane while passing through Carlow on the way and a slogan was born. You never know, it might yet capture the zeitgeist of a resurgent Ireland, the way “Angela Merkel thinks we’re at work” did at Euro 2012.

The group included Butlers, Bergins, Costigans, Hassetts, an O'Connor or two, an Everard, an Ely, a Leahy, a Russell, and an Egan. "The whole parish" they summarised helpfully, after first making The Irish Times write down all their names. So is Templetuohy a hotbed of rugby these days? No danger, they assured me. Booms may come and go, but north Tipp is still hurling country.

Like so many others, however, they had caught the fever of Super Sunday. And with victory on the Western Front secured, all Irish eyes turned east to Warsaw, knowing that no possible outcome there could put a dampener on the party that had already broken out.