Unbridled joy in the Paris springtime as Ireland claim championship
France 20 Ireland 22
Published 15/03/2014 | 18:57
Brian O'Driscoll's tears flowed as Ireland clinched only their 12th championship in his final performance in a green shirt after a gripping finale in Paris.
Joe Schmidt's debut title in his first season and hero O'Driscoll had an anxious wait before the champagne could flow as the TMO ruled out a Damien Chouly try for a blatant forward pass.
Predictably, O'Driscoll was central to the late drama, his tackle on Pascal Pape forcing the pass forward.
Jonny Sexton scored all but five of Ireland's points - casting aside the disappointment of two missed kicks - his two tries augmented by an Andrew Trimble score.
It was a truly magnificent effort, only Ireland's third win here in 42 years, although sadly Sexton had already ben removed to casualty after shipping a late, heavy knock.
Now, the World Cup will Schmidt's next target after a wonderful first season; the bittersweet reflection is that O'Driscoll will be not there.
But he leaves the international side, as he lived all his professional life, as a winner.
Ireland had a shaky start as the French carried well into contact, forcing Chris Henry to concede a penalty inside the first minute, confidently stroked home by scrum-half Maxime Machenaud.
Mathieu Basteraud then broke through measly tackle attempts from Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll as the French dominated the early exchanges, albeit Devin Toner pinched a typically wayward home lineout.
Ireland were committing many errors early in the piece; despite a Mike Ross success in the scrum, a Dave Kearney mis-judgement as he tried to run from defence allowed Machenaud the opportunity to double his side's lead by the 15th minute.
Paul O'Connell magnificently claimed a restart but then conceded a penalty at a lineout as France attacked once more; only Basteraud's inability to pass was allowing Ireland off the hook as he butchered two decent scoring attempts in the opening quarter.
Ireland held their nerve though; another scrum penalty offered them the chance to stake a claim deep in home territory. They made it count.
After several phases, working Les Bleus left and right, the chance seemed to have gone when Conor Murray was sacked; however, Henry's deft offload out the back allowed Jonathan Sexton to dink past Bastareaud and beat Damien Chouly's flailing tackle attempt.
Sexton missed the conversion but he wouldn't miss his second, initially presented by an appalling error fro Louis Picamoles, who dropped the ball on his own ten-metre line under absolutely no pressure while tending to Murray's box kick.
Murray was central to the try after O'Driscoll seared through a gaping midfield hole following the scrum, delivering the final pass to Andrew Trimble who has the easiest of tasks to dot down; Sexton's two-pointer, for a 12-6 lead after 26 minutes.
Back came France in an emerging epic; Ireland's breakdown work was scrappy and a penalty concession found them defending a lineout maul close to their line; a few phases later, they were standing under the posts.
Remi Tales, offering real direction at pivot, sent a cross-kick left to right from which Yann Huget parried infield for Brice Dulin, whose momentum took him over despite Dave Kearney's brave effort to stem the inevitable.
France now led 13-12 but the hapless Thomas Domingo, after being penalised again at a dominant Ireland scrum, then trespassed at a ruck for Sexton who should have earned Ireland a half-time breather with a lead to defend.
Instead, he missed, horribly, from the right of the posts; he had left five points on the field and France somehow retained their advantage.
France emerged from the break first and also timed their burst from the traps; Rob Kearney, Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll needed treatment as France unloaded their big, beastly runners as Ireland's play became scrappier.
Suddenly, though, Ireland scored despite being under pressure. Rob Kearney started the move on the left side of the field with a speculative kick ahead; as Ireland regathered on the other, Andrew Trimble sliced through the French defence.
He could have scored himself but passed to O'Driscoll; he couldn't make the try-line but Sexton did after a wonderful O'Connell carry; this time he did convert his fourth try in two games and, in the 48th minute, Ireland led again, 19-13.
Ireland sensed blood; Dimitri Szarzewski was penalised at the line-out and, from a similar position to the kicks he missed, he split the posts confidently just two minutes later and his side sensed breathing space, 22-13.
Back came France in this breathless spectacle, Szarzewski reaching the posts after some tremendous pressure on the Irish line; Machenaud converted the 63rd minute score and it was now just 22-20 Sexton was then stretched from the fray after bravely tackling the marauding Bausteraud as the gripping end-game; the game re-started with a scrum and, as Ireland lined up two front-row replacements, those who remained were penalised.
Astonishingly, Jean-Marc Doussain, replacement scrum-half, had the responsibility for the pressure kick; he missed. And with it the chance to spoil one hell of a St Patrick's Day parade down the Champs Elysees.
France: B Dulin; Y Huget, M Bastareaud, G Fickou (M Mermoz 76), M Medard; R Tales, M Machenaud (JM Doussain 67); T Domingo (V Debaty HT), D Szarzewski (G Guirado 69), N Mas (R Slimani 37), P Pape, Y Maestri (A Flanquart 53), L Picamoles (S Vaahamahina 66), A Lapandry (W Lauret 76), D Chouly.
Ireland: R Kearney; A Trimble, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy (F McFadden 67), D Kearney, J Sexton (I Madigan 69), C Murray (E Reddan 64); C Healy (J McGrath 70), R Best (S Cronin 70), M Ross (M Moore 64), D Toner, P O'Connell, P O'Mahony ( I Henderson 64), C Henry, J Heaslip.