Monday 23 April 2018

Irish fall short in stirring second-half comeback

PETER BILLS, in Bordeaux

The years roll by but Ireland and Bordeaux continue to mix about as well as about as claret and cornflakes.

Four years after some dire Irish performances in the Stade Chaban-Delmas at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, Ireland produced another worryingly uneven performance here.

Perhaps it was the shock of seeing France, as stagnant as pond water for most of Marc Lievremont's tenure, suddenly running the ball from all over the field and throwing passes at every opportunity. Maybe it was the warm temperatures, still close to 24C when the match started just before 9pm.

But this was a pretty ordinary Irish display whichever way you looked at it for almost the entire first half. The second 40 minutes was in another league as the Irish forwards raised their game and intensity. But by then France had stolen just enough of a lead to withstand a Ronan O'Gara-inspired Irish comeback.

The outhalf gave a marvellous second-half kicking performance, to goal and out of the hand. For the first time in the game, he pushed the French back and for a while changed the trend of the whole match.

O'Gara kicked four penalties, three of them in nine minutes in the third quarter of the game. He then missed another which would have edged Ireland ahead at 15-12. But ace French goal-kicker Dimitri Yachvili then added two more penalties to ease the French home.

But before all that, it was pretty dismal. Maybe we have just come to expect organisation, structure and players knowing their own roles like the back of their hands under Declan Kidney's regime.

But the complete opposite which was on display here throughout the first half reminded us of the standards Ireland's strongest XV has set over recent years. But to see so many basic errors from many senior players so close to the World Cup at least offered Kidney the chance to trot out that time honoured phrase afterwards -- "plenty to work on."

Indeed there is. Ireland were short enough of the ball throughout the first half that they could hardly afford the luxury of giving away three successive line-out throws of their own.

They turned over ball at the breakdown, dropped passes and made any number of simple errors. Nor was the defence totally secure. Luke Fitzgerald failed to shut down his wing and Vincent Clerc almost scored and when French left wing Alexis Palisson came into the back line, was tackled but released off the ground, Clerc raced up in support to snatch the 17th-minute try.

The French were close to adding to that try any number of times before half-time. Only their tendency to overdo it at times, plus Ireland's scrambling defence, foiled them.

Sean O'Brien played a major role in a defensive sense. But his searing break from close to a ruck and strong run upfield, created by Eoin Reddan and then supported by the scrumhalf, was Ireland's best moment of the first half. Alas, when it went left, Keith Earls lost the ball going into contact.

It was that sort of half for Ireland, although their scrum held up well. Largely starved of the ball from other phases, they had to hope that the return of three more of their top forwards from the start, Paul O'Connell, Jamie Heaslip and Stephen Ferris will make a major difference. It should help but several others need to raise their game next week against the French at the Aviva, not to mention for the World Cup.

But when the forwards fired after half-time, they made it a different game. The need for greater consistency was obvious.

Scorers -- France: Clerc try; Yachvili 4 pens, con. Ireland: O'Gara 4 pens.

France: D Traille (M Medard 64); V Clerc, D Marty, M Mermoz (D Skrela 26), A Palisson; F Trinh Duc, D Yachvili (M Parra 76); S Marconnet (J-B Poux 54), D Szarzewski (G Guirado 54), L Ducalcon, J Pierre, R Millo Chluski (L Nallet 58), T Dusautoir (Capt), I Harinordoquy (J Bonnaire 65), R Lakafia.

Ireland: R Kearney (F Jones 47); A Trimble (F McFadden 66), K Earls, P Wallace, L Fitzgerald; R O'Gara, E Reddan (C Murray 60); CHealy (T Buckley 51), R Best (J Flannery 60), M Ross(C Healy 69), D O'Callaghan, L Cullen (Capt) (P O'Connell 50), D Ryan, S O'Brien, D Leamy (J Heaslip 51).

Referee: S Walsh (Australia).

Sunday Indo Sport

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