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George Hook: Kidney must build on this momentum


Rob Kearney breaks through the France defence during a scintillating display at the Stadde France

Rob Kearney breaks through the France defence during a scintillating display at the Stadde France

Rob Kearney breaks through the France defence during a scintillating display at the Stadde France

Samuel Johnson was not a follower of rugby but he could have had Declan Kidney in mind when he suggested that "the prospect of being hanged in the morning concentrates the mind wonderfully."

Ireland's outstanding first 40 minutes in Paris begged the question as to why the coaching team had to wait for the possibility of a big defeat by France before implementing a blitz defence and flooding the breakdowns.

This was a performance light years away from that against Wales just a few weeks ago. It seems that this team can rise to the challenge of facing the best like Australia and France, and then capitulate against inferior forces.

Every rugby supporter rejoiced at the sight of Tommy Bowe heading for the try-line and the confusion amongst the French backs as wave after wave of brave men in green shirts tore into the opposition as they attempted to create a fluid game.

Time and again, Les Bleus were outnumbered three or four to one at the ruck, and turnovers accrued. It was stirring stuff and Ireland were good for their 17-6 half-time lead. There were no signs that the French had a Plan B or that the Irish needed one.

The much-maligned back-row was magnificent and it was astonishing that the coach saw fit to substitute Sean O'Brien with Peter O'Mahony.


This was a game made for two blindsides, played as it was on a narrow front in difficult conditions. It was obvious that O'Brien had the same feelings as he walked off the pitch.

The Tullow man still does not make the yards of 2011 but his sheer physical presence was vital in this contest. Jamie Heaslip also was invigorated by the challenge and, with Stephen Ferris leading the charge, the back-row carried, tackled and fought on the ground with a fierce intensity.

Jonathan Sexton was seen in an unlikely but crucial role as he supported every tackler and displayed a physical strength not gifted to too many fly-halves. However, he started and finished in a low-key manner.

His early horrific miss at goal was not terminal but his failure to manufacture a drop-goal from the last great Irish surge was disappointing.

It is hard to understand how a Munster captain could not have had more patience at ruck time to set up the denouement, but to be fair the fly-half showed no inclination to ask his forwards to present him the opportunity.

The French simply had no idea how to set up a drop-goal in similar circumstances. Substitute Lionel Beauxis was given difficult passes in impossible positions to try for the winning points and at the third time of asking the French coughed up a needless penalty.

It bordered on incompetence and really asks questions about coach Philippe Saint-Andre, who has done nothing for this talented group of players, who we were told were misdirected by Marc Lievremont.

Interestingly, Saint-Andre's record at Gloucester, Sale and Toulon never gave any indication that he was of international stature.

He stands indicted by the performance of Fran├žois Trinh-Duc, who kicked like a drain but lasted 80 minutes. How a coach with a plan of forward domination persisted with a non-kicker was a mystery.

The big beneficiary was Rob Kearney, who gave a display of aerial pyrotechnics worthy of the Red Arrows. As he did for the Lions in South Africa, the full-back made hay from misdirected kicks from the opposing fly-half and showed an unerring ability, which bordered on the unbelievable, to win the ball in the air from his own kicks.

As a catcher of the ball he has no peer in world rugby. He must now expand his range to link with fellow three-quarters if he is become one of the greats of the game.

Referee Dave Pearson tends to go with the team in charge. Thus in the first half, Ireland got the rub of the green when Gordon D'Arcy and Cian Healy were lucky to stay on the pitch for professional fouls.

The penalty count went against Ireland 11-4 and Irish discipline was a real problem. If the first 40 minutes were the difficulty against Italy, Ireland rarely delivered in the second half this time. Their failure to register a point after the break cost them dear and was predicated on a poor line-out.

The second-half revival by France had a lot to do with the power sitting on the bench. Only Donnacha Ryan in the forwards was an option for Kidney, while Saint-Andre had the luxury of two props, one lock and a back-row who were arguably as good as the men they replaced.

It was simply asking too much of tired Irish bodies and the heart raced when Tom Court and Sean Cronin arrived with the French scrum in the ascendancy.

With just six days to recover for the Scottish game Kidney may have to make some changes.

Conor Murray looks unlikely but surely Ryan must be given a start ahead of Donncha O'Callaghan, while to combat the Scottish quick ruck game it might be worth giving O'Mahony a start and granting Stephen Ferris' dodgy knees a rest.

Ireland have proved that they can fight when the chips are down, away from home and against better teams. Next week they must show that they can deliver at home against weaker opponents.

One thing is certain. Kidney's team will surprise us. As Doctor Johnson said, "Actions are visible, though motives are secret."

Irish Independent