Sport Rugby

Thursday 19 April 2018

Improved Ireland left to rue missed opportunity

Draw leaves familiar feeling of Les Bleus

O'Driscoll's last stand?
O'Driscoll's last stand?

A prominent psychology professor was asked on national radio yesterday morning if he had any advice for Ireland ahead of their Six Nations tie with France.

Ireland 13 France 13

A prominent psychology professor was asked on national radio yesterday morning if he had any advice for Ireland ahead of their Six Nations tie with France.

Quick as a flash, he suggested they focus on previous great victories over the French, and believe that they could be repeated.

You can't beat the power of positive thinking. In this case however, only six of the Ireland squad had ever been on a winning side in this fixture. And, of that group, only Brian O'Driscoll had managed it more than once.

That's the problem with the French: one Irish win since the corresponding fixture in 2003 perfectly illustrates who wears the trousers in this relationship. Statistically those strides may still be blue, but they don't fit so well after this encounter.

For 65 minutes, France were so far off the pace that the result looked a foregone conclusion. If Ireland were more than a score ahead it would have been. And then the comeback started. When Louis Picamoles, again France's best forward, forced his way over after a series of scrums close to the Ireland line, there were 10 minutes left.

For sheer tension they were 10 of the best minutes you'll see. The centrepiece of that period was a referral to TMO Nigel Whitehouse after replacement prop Vincent Debaty nudged Keith Earls over the touchline as they both chased a lovely chip over the top by Eoin Reddan.

Whitehouse was happy that the contact wasn't illegal, and, with that, the chances of Ireland snatching the game back were gone. Indeed there would be another chip and chase into their own in-goal area before referee Steve Walsh called it a day.

By that stage Ireland were either out on their feet or off their feet. Luke Marshall had been helped off, looking completely out of it; O'Driscoll had been off for a few minutes as well – it wasn't clear if it was head bin or blood bin – and Eoin Reddan was stretchered off with a broken leg after a horrible collision, and will be out for three months.

France had their running repairs as well but, unlike the home team, they had a bench to unload – one that would make an impact. Philippe Saint-Andre may have got it horribly wrong in starting Freddie Michalak but at least he got it right with the reserves.

The double substitution of Guilhem Guirado and Debaty early in the fourth quarter gave France the energy they needed up front, and Antoine Claassen also provided much-needed carrying.

Ireland, meanwhile, replaced just two of their forwards, with the second – Iain Henderson for Peter O'Mahony, with three minutes left. It was hardly part of the plan to leave Mike McCarthy on for the full course, given his four weeks of inactivity, but that's how it panned out.

"If we had a little more in the tank we would have won the game," Conor Murray said afterwards. Yes, and a few more at the coalface would have helped.

And how France needed their own posse to ride to the rescue. Ireland got after them from the off, using the lineout really well, and while the home team were being penalised at virtually every scrum in the first half, the rest of their game was very good.

Central to this was Paddy Jackson. He shot three out of five, which after Murrayfield was something of a triumph, including two tremendous efforts outside the 10-metre line which defied the cold and wet to carry all the way home.

His kicking from the hand was good too, as was that of Rob Kearney who, along with Sean O'Brien, must have pushed Conor Murray close for man of the match.

Overall, Ireland seemed to have a much better appreciation of what the conditions demanded after their experience in England game.

It was a day for an efficient lineout and a good maul, and the home team had both, regularly shortening the former and mixing the calls well, and using the latter to open the scoring through Jamie Heaslip on 11 minutes.

Jackson nailed the conversion, and then missed soon after Michalak had skewed his first effort, before slotting two great shots to put Ireland 13-3 ahead after 33 minutes.

It stayed that way until the break, at which stage we wondered would we see a change at 10 from Saint-Andre. Nothing doing. Michalak kept leaving his kicks short and passing to anyone who could take the pressure off him, and even his partner Morgan Parra was well removed from his best.

He spilled the drop-off to the new half and there and then you thought France would head for the exit. What kept them in the game was Ireland's inability to put a bit of distance on the affair.

Jackson had a long-range effort fall short, five minutes into the second period, and even when he nodded to the posts you felt a nudge to touch, where Ireland were so strong, would have been the better shout.

Parra pulled three points back for France on 54 minutes with a tremendous effort, but missed with a harder one a few minutes later, and still they laboured their way through stuff you expect them to do as routine.

Like using extra men when they were on hand, but the inconsistent Yoann Huget butchered an overlap when France finally made headway in Ireland's '22'.

Picamoles dug them out of the hole a few minutes later, and from then the momentum swung to the blue corner and Ireland feared they would come away empty handed. Remarkably, they ended up with their second successive draw in this fixture.

When it came last season it put some balance on a run that featured a loss and a win. This time it's a bit late for that.

Ireland deserved more from the game, and for their effort, but that they didn't get it reflects pretty much where they are just now.

Scorers – Ireland: Heaslip try, Jackson, 2 pens, con.

France: Picamoles try, Michalak pen, con, Parra pen.

Irish Independent

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