Wednesday 13 December 2017

O'Driscoll stays positive in praise of French flair

Peter Bills

A thoroughly bad day at the office or the end of an era? That was the question hanging over the Ireland team after their 23-point thumping by the French at an icy Stade de France last night.

It wasn't just that the French played some superb, 15-man rugby which swept away Ireland's hopes of another Grand Slam, like a flood tide in springtime. After all, just seven days ago, we were wondering whether the failure to be sufficiently ruthless to finish off the limited Italians at Croke Park meant this Irish side now had key deficiencies.

Time will tell on that but Brian O'Driscoll greeted talk of the ending of an era with the kind of emphatic defence he'd shown throughout the match.

"I certainly don't think we feel we have come to the end of a cycle," he said. "Obviously there is huge disappointment and we haven't felt that for over a year. But a result like that is quite grounding at times. It's not that we ever thought we were infallible but you get a little reality check from those games."

Both O'Driscoll and Ireland coach Declan Kidney metaphorically doffed their caps in acknowledgement of an outstanding French performance. "Give credit to France for their victory," Kidney said. "Any side that scores three tries to one deserves to win and they played very well.

"Paris is always a difficult place to come to, especially when you go 14 points behind fairly quickly. We were never able to make any inroads. They kept us pinned back and picked off their penalties and dropped goals in the second half."

O'Driscoll joined the acclaim for one of the finest French performances anyone could remember for a long time. "Credit them where credit is due. They played a physical game and gave their backs go-forward ball. It was quite a complete all-round French performance. We spoke about not letting them get off to a good start and perhaps if Gordon's (D'Arcy) chip and chase had come off and we had got seven points then, it might have been different.

"We were building momentum at that stage but going behind and then conceding a couple of soft-ish tries, was very difficult."

Kidney pointed out that full-back Rob Kearney, who suffered a twisted knee, was out of the play for Yannick Jauzion's try, which explained the hole through which the French centre ran.

So what could have been done differently, Kidney was asked? "We tried to attack and did so from deep. Maybe we could have got more field positions but France covered the back field quite well.

"Maybe we could have put a bit more pressure on their lineout (Ireland snatched four French throw-ins, in the first 25 minutes alone). But if we'd done that we would have handed possession to them. They kept pressure on us and kept the scoreboard ticking along in the second half."

Kidney revealed his post-match summary to the players. "I told them that a lot of little things cost us. It is literally a game of inches but having said that, we are not for making excuses. Maybe if we had got a score through Gordon, maybe also if we had got a score just before half time (when Paul O'Connell knocked on as he looked set to dive for the French line)... maybe, maybe.

"Fact was, it just didn't happen for us today."

O'Driscoll urged his team to put right the wrongs which the French observed. "You realise, in a game like this, you have got to have everything bang on. You have to go back and make sure you put the small little things, as Declan Kidney called them, right. So that the next time you go out and put the green jersey on you attempt to put those things right."

Kidney refused to blame prop Cian Healy for his yellow card during which France scored 10 points and took a stranglehold on the game which was never broken. "Sometimes it is just a reaction thing, like a little tug of the jersey.

"I thought the boys defended well when we went down to 14 men. You can't expect a boy to stand back and allow them to run in a seven-point score. But what we need is to learn to work out how to work our way around those things."

Does Kidney see problems motivating his men now? "These guys are great pros. What happened in the last 14 months came from them and what happens in the future will come from them, too. So I won't have to motivate them, no."

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