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Hard lessons from Paris must now be used to plot our path forward

Goodness knows the margins of victory and defeat are narrow in top level sport, but it has never been displayed so blatantly as it was on Saturday at the Stade de France. If Ireland had been at their best, they would probably have still found themselves at the wrong end, such was the French's insatiable appetite for blood. To be blunt, only an All Blacks outfit could have stood toe-to-toe with this French team from an attacking perspective. That, for me, was the clear message for Ireland looking ahead to 2011.

I am by no means pressing any panic buttons yet. Ireland will come back, and strongly too. Do not put it past the lads to rally hard over the coming weeks to retain at least a triple crown. However, the bar has now been set, at least on this side of the equator, for the distance we will need to go if we are to have any aspirations in 18 months' time.

In the same breath, I must also add a word of caution about the French; they have always been a moody team, such is their nature, and they could come unstuck in their conquests just as easily as they thrill and excite the masses with such awesome skill and intensity. The jury is still out on them, but the world of rugby must take heed all the same.

Everyone knows that mistakes cost us, but that would be a bit disingenuous to the home side. The pressure and intensity of the French was something that the Irish players struggled to cope with throughout the match.

The indiscipline and unforced errors only enhanced the opportunities for them as Ireland battled to keep their defence in check, many times in vain. The display in Paris reminded us all of the dark years towards the end of the last century when many an Irish team was sent back with their tails between their legs.

On Saturday, it seemed no different, but it would be easy for us all to wallow in defeat at this juncture. When the game is properly analysed, the inches involved, as mentioned at the outset, will be obvious.

Moments such as Gordon D'Arcy's unfortunate bounce of the ball to Cian Healy's silly sinbinning were all turning points. I could go on, but focus must ultimately turn to the bigger picture.

If Ireland want to go out and try and win games against the best sides, they are going to have to play some more risky rugby.

With all their obvious strengths, the current half-back pairing do not offer the way forward to where this team needs to go.

This is all down to the coach's interpretation, of course, and whether he wants to continue down the route that created the backdrop to Ireland's approach to this match or whether we want to progress in developing our running game.

Ireland are clearly making progress in that department in the way they patiently went through the phases to create David Wallace's try late on in proceedings.

That demonstrated what this team can do and my belief is that the players too want to push this approach to the limit.

If that is the case, then you need at least one very quick distributor of the ball. For me, that would mean Eoin Reddan and/or Jonny Sexton in the starting line-up. Ronan O'Gara or Tomás O'Leary need to be complemented by one of Leinster pair for Ireland to kickstart a running game with real purpose. The French half-backs looked to the manor born on a day that belonged to the home side, from the bounce of the ball to the 50/50 refereeing decisions.

Ireland will learn some hard lessons, but that will be no harm. They have had a great run and defeat will make them wiser. Sooner or later Ireland must make some tough calls if they want to move forward.

I may be demanding too much, but I would much prefer to see Ireland unleashing the talent they have more often and to greater effect. What do they say about fortune favouring the brave?


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