Thursday 18 January 2018

Ireland's failure to trouble Les Bleus offers little in the way of comfort

France 33
Ireland 10

There is an icy cold you get in the French winter, where the sky is grey and there is not a wisp of wind -- just the dead cold that eats into your bones. And if you are not moving fast enough, often enough, then it threatens to freeze you on the spot.

Ireland's history in Paris is littered with examples of them freezing, regardless of the temperature. Yesterday, with conditions sub-zero and the remains of snow decorating the perimeter of the pitch at Stade de France, they were left for dead again.

Did they freeze? Well like the rest of us they were bloody cold but this wasn't one of those days when the occasion and the history had the away team rooted to the spot, and beaten before the off. We had feared that France's scrum would be a weapon of destruction and while it wasn't spectacular, certainly it was effective.

Nevertheless, there have been other days in Ireland's largely losing sequence in this city -- four wins post-war -- when the green scrum was under far more pressure than yesterday.

Meantime, out of touch Ireland were giving France no end of grief in the first half, relieving them of three throws in succession at one point. And still for most of the game, which started ominously with Rob Kearney spilling the kick-off, you felt that France were in no way threatened by what Ireland had to offer.

Stephen Ferris is a handful for any opposition and he made them work; Jamie Heaslip is a world-class No 8 and he looked comfortable in this contest; and Jerry Flannery threw perfectly and carried well. Outside of that Gordon D'Arcy's footwork was a threat and Tommy Bowe looked like he could do damage if only someone could get the ball to him in space. But that was it.

Ireland had no menace at half-back where France were miles ahead. Because Ireland played so far behind the gain line, France were able to defend in comfort, and even though Declan Kidney's side were able to rack up a decent number of phases, the sequence would die on the ball being kicked away or spilled.

In the blue corner however, Morgan Parra and Francois Trinh-Duc controlled the game. The Montpelier outhalf is a physically imposing player and he looked to illustrate that advantage over Ronan O'Gara at every opportunity.

And his partner, Parra, compensated for what he lost to Tomas O'Leary in the physicality stakes with a range of fine skills that left a mark on the game. Kidney left it too long to change his nine and 10.

There was one period in the game when you felt Ireland had a real chance of denting France's growing confidence and when that ended negatively, Ireland's only chance was France running out of steam.

That period of potential progress came at the end of the first half when Ireland were in obvious trouble at 17-3 down.

They would have been helped in their cause had referee Wayne Barnes binned Lionel Nallet for flopping in over the ball two metres from his own line to save a score, but he didn't.

So the Greens first tried to maul their way over and with advantage being played for another offside, they switched to pick and drive. O'Leary, Cian Healy and David Wallace all had a go but the sequence ended with Paul O'Connell being unable to hold a pass under pressure and Parra was only too delighted to hoof the ball off the field. Bye bye Ireland.

A score at that point would not just have brought it back to a possible 17-10, but the timing would have been perfect.

Instead they headed for the changing room knowing they had blown their best sequence of the half, having already lost out on their best opportunity when an excellent chip and chase by D'Arcy was foiled by the post.

The worst period of that half had come in the second quarter, starting with the binning of Healy for obstructing Parra, and continuing after he returned. Two tries in the space of a few minutes did the damage.

First, with Healy off, and France leading 3-0 from his penalty, they got a decision changed against Flannery for what can best be described as an unorthodox tackle on Alexis Palisson, who hobbled off two minutes later.

That gave France a foothold in the Irish 22 which they quickly turned into a scrum-fest. Seven times the scrum was packed down and when at last Ireland had done brilliantly to get a nudge against superior numbers, the point of attack shifted and two rucks later William Servat was over by the post.

He was followed two minutes later by Yannick Jauzion who got past Gordon D'Arcy who seemed to be left marking two men. The impetus for that had been created by the giant Mathieu Bastareaud surging through the middle off perfect scrum ball.

His one-on-one with Brian O'Driscoll had been a talking point in the build-up to this game but the Ireland captain, who struggled with an injury, needed the perfect set-up to expose the bigger man, who expertly mixed power with skill.

His offload for Clement Poitrenaud just after the hour mark was outstanding, and with Parra's conversion it took France out to 24-3. There was no way back for Ireland from there.

They did manage a lovely try by David Wallace after Ferris and D'Arcy had opened the door, but France had been popping over penalties and drop-goals to keep the scoreboard ticking over, and to keep themselves safe.

And no, they didn't run out of steam. This was more like the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties than the remarkable comebacks in the games of 2006 and 2008. Not much warmth in that.

Sunday Independent

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