Tuesday 20 February 2018

Heartbreak in Paris can make us stronger

Centre Brian O'Driscoll reacts after France's victory against Ireland Photo: Getty Images
Centre Brian O'Driscoll reacts after France's victory against Ireland Photo: Getty Images
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

If Saturday was a yesterday, it would have been the St Valentine's Day Massacre. Saturday was New Year's Eve in China and maybe the best thing we can do is resolve to begin anew.

France were, by some way, the better team, but we had no luck early on and I blame Societe Generale for costing us 14 points.

Gordon Darcy's kick ahead hit the soft padding around the post when he was leading in the race for the line. The ball, being oval-shaped, has a mind of its own and the belly flop off the padded post favoured the French. France went up the field and almost immediately had ten points on the board. As Declan Kidney and Elle McPherson are fond of saying, it's a game of inches. (And Elle, thanks for the card and the sweets, but I would have preferred Milk Tray).

William Servat brushed the post as he touched down for his try. The Societe Generale-sponsored cushion kept him from harm. Fair enough, but if you touch the post before you ground the ball, it's no try.

We can't crib too much. There was a forward pass in the build-up to Wallace's try and Flannery was lucky enough to escape a yellow when we were already down to 14 men.

France should have been yellowed when a defender held on too long right on his own line, but one injustice balanced out the other.

Only Flannery can tell us if there was intent involved in that wild kick. My guess is he was more awkward than malicious. His line-out throwing was very good and we beat France in this department.

France looked like the best team in the world and maybe there's some consolation for us there. We would have had to play above our previous best to win this one, but I felt we were short of really hard rugby.

Big men need lots of games to get match-fit. We were running fit, but a tough game is better than a month's training. Our players only had two Heineken Cup matches since Christmas and we had a good few injuries. France had plenty of continuous tough rugby in their more benign climate and it showed.

If you look back to the last World Cup, we were short of games and it cost us big time.

However, there were other reasons for our defeat. Some of our decision-making was poor.

The French final receivers got in very easy. Ireland rushed up in ones rather than in a line and that left gaps. There were too many gamblers in our defence. And we didn't get men out wide to 'one-man-and-his-dog' the French over the touchline.

We gave away silly penalties and field position was lost by aimless kicking when we should have kept the ball in hand.

You never boot the ball away in Paris because, like the territorial neighbour whose precious garden you have violated with an overcooked kick, they will not give it back. Once again let me state I have a vested interest here, but Jonny Sexton should start in London.

Ronan O'Gara hasn't missed an international kick. We have praised him more than any other player over the years, but England are huge and Ireland need a big, mobile man at 10. Sexton is like a second No 7.

The sad thing is that after the enforced and wholesale realignment we had to make when Rob Kearney went off, it could well be that a fit Andrew Trimble will get his place on the bench.

Either Sexton or O'Gara might not make the final 22.

The scrum, too, will be looked at. It would break my heart if John Hayes was dropped. We hope he reaches the 100 mark and gets a letter from the President. That's our fervent wish for O'Gara too.

All is not lost. There's still the Triple Crown and Wales might shock France in Cardiff.

Our boys have a reservoir of pride, pumping passion-play plasma into their big hearts. The defeat will hurt and we will improve for the outing.

We just need to be a little bit cuter in Twickenham.

Irish Independent

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