French rely on acts of Venditti

Ireland 15 France 32; Pens: Elwood, 2, 17, 25, Tries: Galthie 5 40, 48 Venditt i 32, 60 ,80 Pens: Castaignede 72, 77 Con Castaignede 5, 60, 80; Half-time: 12-12
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The Independent Online
IN CRICKETING terms, the overnight score was France 84 for no wicket, Ireland having been demolished at Under-21 and A levels on Friday. And, to stick with the analogy of the summer game, the final score was victory to the rampant France by 10 wickets, or perhaps by an innings, or maybe even both.

To give the statisticians something to mull over, the last time Ireland defeated France - apart from in an unofficial international in Auch in 1988 - was in 1983, also at Lansdowne Road. Since then, 15 matches have been played between the two countries.

The try-count is a staggering 53-6 in France's favour, including David Venditti's hat-trick and Fabien Galthie's opening try at Lansdowne Road yesterday. To make it worse, one of Ireland's paltry total of six was a penalty try, awarded last season at the Parc des Princes, when the Irish, as usual, got lost in Paris.

Ireland's new coaching adviser, Brian Ashton, promised some surprises after his brief association with the squad this week. Well, the only real surprise - if you could call it that - was that Ireland were on level terms at 12-12 at half-time, and were actually leading 15-12 until the start of the final quarter.

But anybody in the capacity crowd who believed that this Ireland team was going to beat the French was guilty of self- delusion. We hear a great deal these days about the so-called "Emerald Tiger", meaning the allegedly booming Irish economy; in international rugby terms, the "Emerald Famine" continues apace, and little we saw yesterday would make you believe that it is in any way close to ending.

Which is no fault of Ashton, it must be said. When the Irish Rugby Union, in their infinite wisdom, decided to do a Casablanca on it, and say "Here's looking at you, Kidd", to the former coach some 10 days before the start of the championship, the die was cast.

Ashton would have needed to be a miracle worker, and in the limited time at his disposal no miracles were about to be performed. Ireland played with commendable determination yesterday, but enthusiasm is all very well; the French managed to contain it and then settled the issue in the final 20 minutes.

Yesterday, Eric Elwood again kept the Irish in the hunt with five penalty goals. Since 1983, goal-kicking is largely the only way Ireland have scored against France, and among the long line of distinguished kickers who have put Irish points on the board are Ollie Campbell, Michael Kiernan, Derek McAleese, and, of course, Elwood himself.

Ireland's backs made the occasional sortie, but they never really delivered. James Topping made a good run in the first half but failed to cut infield when a try looked on and was bundled into touch.

Conor O'Shea brought the crowd to their feet when he ran back the occasional loose French clearance, but again he failed to set up any sort of meaningful attack, much as he had failed to do in the defeat against Italy a fortnight back.

Just why Irish reactions should be so much slower than those of the French is anybody's guess, and it is an area Ashton surely will target. Late in the game when Alain Penaud had his attempted clearance charged down just short of the French line, the Irish failed to seize the advantage. Indeed, seconds later France's counter-attack took them deep into Irish territory.

Elwood's first penalty goal put Ireland ahead after three minutes, before Galthie's try beside the posts two minutes later was converted by Thomas Castaignede. Elwood's second penalty goal, predictably, was offset by Venditti's first, unconverted try, before Elwood landed two more goals to leave it tied at the break.

His fifth and final goal put the Irish ahead again by 15-12. But the final quarter was all France. Castaignede converted both Venditti's tries, and in between them added two penalties. The rest of the championship looks bleak for Ireland.

Ireland: C O'Shea (London Irish); J Topping (Ballymena), M Field (Malone), J Bell (Northampton), D Crotty (Garryowen); E Elwood (Lansdowne), N Hogan (Terenure College); N Popplewell (Newcastle), K Wood (Harlequins, capt), P Wallace (Saracens), P Johns (Saracens), J Davidson (London Irish), D Corkery (Bristol), E Miller (Leicester), D McBride (Malone). Replacements: K McQuilkin (Lansdowne) for Field, 14-21; A Clarke (Northampton) for Wood, 37; McQuilkin for Field, 47.

France: J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); E Ntamack (Toulouse), T Castaignede (Toulouse), S Glas (Bourgoin), D Venditti (Brive); A Penaud (Brive), F Galthie (Colomiers); C Califano (Toulouse), M Dal Maso (Agen), F Tournaire (Narbonne), O Merle (Montferrand), H Moirin (Toulouse), A Benazzi (Agen, capt), F Pelous (Dax), P Benetton (Agen). Replacements: R Ibanez (Dax) for Califano, 25-32; P Carbonneau (Brive) for Galthie, 43; R Castel (Beziers) for Merle, 61.

Referee: A Watson (South Africa).