Gone in 17 minutes -- how our Grand Slam dream died
IT took more than 60 years to win a Grand Slam -- and just 17 minutes to lose it again.
Declan Kidney, the coach with the Midas touch, could only watch from the stands as his golden generation imploded in the Stade de France, battered to defeat by a ferociously physical French side and hurried on their way by an astonishing number of self-inflicted wounds.
The team that had lifted a nation from the gloom of recession less than a year ago could do nothing to stop the rampant French, who by the end of the game were tacking on points for fun.
The gloom, for now, has no relief. No World Cup for Trapattoni's team because of the perfidious French, and no temporary escapism from recession as Ireland chase another Grand Slam.
This morning there is nothing but bleak reality; grim for Kidney and his heroic captain Brian O'Driscoll, and even grimmer for the rest of the country.
The portents were bad from the very first moments of the game when Rob Kearney, Ireland's normally invulnerable fullback, spilled the kick off. Ireland recovered to put together the most compelling 17 minutes of breathless, end-to-end rugby, but then the tide turned.
Cian Healey's desperate and illegal attempt to stop a French try earned him a yellow card and France the first points of the game. For the next 10 minutes France battered at Ireland's line -- and eventually the cracks appeared.
Just as Healey returned, France scored under the posts. Minutes later they struck for their second try, just after Ronan O'Gara had raised Irish hopes with what would prove to be his team's only score of the half.
Any chance of a second-half revival was quietly buried as the French increased the tempo and racked up the points, seemingly at will.
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David Wallace managed to claim a consolation try for Ireland midway through, giving some respectability to a score that threatened to run to embarrassing levels -- but it was a rare bright spot on an evening where every other Irish attack seemed to end in a spilled pass, a panicked kick or a thunderous tackle from the men in blue.
Kidney will now have to pick up the pieces of his shattered team, and will be grateful for the extra week's recuperation before he heads to Twickenham on Saturday week. The manager's renowned motivational and psychological powers will be tested to the limit as he tries to imbue his team with the confidence and self-belief that delivered last year's Grand Slam.
It will not be an easy task -- his team were not simply beaten yesterday, they were taken apart.
Kidney, too, will have to face adversity and criticism for the first time. The rugby public will hold fire on a man who has already delivered so much for Irish rugby, but the rugby media is a more fickle beast.
With Ireland crying out for a change of plan, an injection of new blood, Kidney waited until the game was lost to make significant changes, his plans perhaps unravelled by early injuries, perhaps by shell shock, or perhaps because he and his team simply froze in the bitter cold of Stade de France.