Saturday 20 October 2018

I'll never forget Paris...

Seamus O'Hanlon - Sidelines

Not bad for my first ever trip to the Stade de France!

A last gasp Johnny Sexton drop goal in the 83rd minute after 41 phases of play kept alive Ireland's 2018 Grand Slam prospects.

This was a tough bruising encounter that was not for the faint-hearted.

Despite the incessant rain Ireland appeared in control for most of the proceedings enjoying the majority of possession and territory. But a missed Sexton penalty midway through the second period when we led 12-6 looked like it was going to prove costly.

Buoyed on by the strains of La Marseillaise (it really is a magnificent song) the French struck back first with a penalty and then with a stunning Teddy Thomas try.

The Racing 92 winger cut inside near the halfway line and arrowed through the Irish rearguard with hardly a glove being laid on him. Les Bleus were now in full voice and it was difficult not to join in humming the French anthem as the famous tune bounded all around the stadium.

A missed French penalty attempt on 77 minutes gave us a glimmer of hope and allowed us inch up the pitch into drop goal range.

Those 41 phases were exhausting for us fans in the stands, let alone the players on the pitch.

The French thought they had repelled our attack but Sexton kept his cool and landed the monster kick from forty plus metres out.

Nigel Owens immediately blew the final whistle as the Irish outhalf was swallowed up by his 14 team mates. All 15 Irish players made carries into those 40 plus rucks. Peter O'Mahoney, Bundi Aki, CJ Stander and Iain Henderson did most of the heavy lifting but everyone was involved.

Conor Murray and Sexton combined to throw over 50 passes during the attack and Sexton himself was down nursing cramp midway through the phases.

The satisfaction etched on the players faces as they made their way to the sidelines to the accept the congratulation of family and friends told you what this massive team try meant to them.

I collapsed back into my seat as exhausted as anyone and just enjoyed the moment. What a finale. I had the pleasure to be in the company of a few experienced travellers from Dundalk Rugby Club and I thank them for their kind hospitality and witty humour.

Perhaps it was the sheer excitement of it all but nobody in the stands around us was aware of the Head Injury Assessment (HIA) controversy that dominated the after match discussions.

The French clearly manipulated HIA protocol rules twice during the game when two French players went off with knee injuries only to be assessed HIA.

The second incident allowed French kicker and scrum half Maxime Machenaud return to the field during those crucial closing minutes. As the French had already used all their subs, they would have been forced to finish the game with 14 men.

Owens appeared a little dubious about the decision that was being relayed to him from the sidelines but nonetheless accepted the recommendation of the 'independent' match doctor …. who was French.

I have to say I wasn't aware of the rule but learned observers of the game have accused the French of dishonesty and cheating. The incident, however, did not interfere with our post match celebrations in the French capital.

The Argus