Friday 23 February 2018

Ireland's Grand Slam lies in tatters

French hand out a harsh lesson in art of winning

Niall Crozier

THE question being asked by Irish followers in Paris on Saturday night was had that afternoon's defeat been a blip by a very good side or was it suggestive of something more terminal?

There can be no disputing that Ireland were thoroughly well beaten by opponents whose hunger was matched by their ability to satisfy it.

Saturday's defeat by the French at Stade de France brought Declan Kidney's 14-month, 12-match unbeaten run to a shuddering halt.

Unlucky 13? No. No, luck had nothing to do with it.

France -- bigger and better -- lorded it over their guests in the scrum, a setpiece which continues to cause concern.

One can speculate as to what might have happened had Gordon D'Arcy's clever chip and chase yielded the try under the posts it threatened when the match was scoreless.

The conjecture as to what might have been is irrelevant, however. The French scored the game's first points and then proceeded to build on that platform. Thus a nip-and-tuck first quarter became a match dominated by the hosts with occasional bouts of insurrection by the guests.

Irish hopes nose-dived when Cian Healy was sin-binned for holding back scrum-half, Morgan Parra, as the blue wave surged forward. The wronged number nine kicked the resultant penalty and France had a lead they never looked like losing.

The first of France's three tries came with Healy and Stephen Ferris on the line, the flanker having been withdrawn so Tom Court could join the front row.

The pressure intensified and then told when hooker William Servat got over, with Parra converting to open up a 10-point gap. Whatever the game plan, it was in tatters after half-an-hour.

A Ronan O'Gara penalty broke Ireland's duck, but the French response was a second try, that one by centre Yannick Jauzion with Parra again obliging with the extras.

Ireland had to reply and just on half-time they almost did, when, following good, sustained pressure they worked an opening. Paul O'Connell had only to hold the final pass and he was in, but it was spilled and the chance had gone.

So, rather than going in 17-10 in arrears, Ireland resumed facing a 17-3 deficit.

It was imperative that they drew first figurative blood on the restart. They didn't; instead French full-back Clement Poitrenaud did, with Parra's exquisite conversion from touch completing his hat-trick, following which he dropped a goal and then landed a long-range penalty to open up a 30-10 points chasm.

Ireland's errors continued to mount, with coach Kidney's selection of replacements coming back to haunt him. Rob Kearney's exit saw Keith Earls having to switch to full-back, Gordon D'Arcy moving to the wing and Paddy Wallace -- 4st 7lbs lighter than Mathieu Bastareaud -- filling the resultant midfield vacancy.

David Wallace's try following a great break by Ferris, with O'Driscoll in support, finally interrupted France's by-now almost total domination, but normal service was resumed when Frederic Michalak dropped his side's second goal.

The passage which led to it just about summed up Ireland's day, with the embarrassed O'Connell being taken for a ride a-top his own pack. Comical but not funny.

FRANCE: Clement Poitrenaud; Vincent Clerc, Mathieu Bastareaud, Yannick Jauzion, Alexis Palisson; Francois Trinh-Duc, Morgan Parra; Thomas Domingo, William Servat, Nicolas Nas; Lionel Nallet, Pascal Pape; Thierry Dusautoir (captain), Fulgence Quedraogo, Imanol Harinordoguy.

Replacements: Dimitri Szarzewski, Sylvain Marconnet, Julien Pierre, Julien Bonnaire, Frederic Michalak, David Marty, Julien Malzieu

IRELAND: Rob Kearney; Tommy Bowe, Brian O'Driscoll (captain), Gordon D'Arcy, Keith Earls; Ronan O'Gara, Tomas O'Leary; Cian Healy, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes; Leo Cullen, Paul O'Connell; Stephen Ferris, David Wallace, Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements: Rory Best (Ulster) Tom Court (Ulster), Donnacha Ryan (Munster), Sean O'Brien (Leinster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Jonathan Sexton (Leinster), Paddy Wallace (Ulster).

REFEREE: Wayne Barnes (England)

Source: Belfast Telegraph

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