Rugby Union / Five Nations' Championship: French hand the Irish a lesson in history

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Ireland. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6

France. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21

IN THEIR long history Ireland have never experienced a slump such as they are in now. This was their 11th successive defeat, a record, and they have gone for more than three years without a championship win at Lansdowne Road. If there was precious little singing in Dublin last night then it was because there was not much to sing about.

It is almost an intrusion into private grief to dwell on this defeat. The Irish knew it was on the cards. There was a palpable air of despondency hanging over the fair city yesterday and tickets were freely available outside the ground until moments before kick-off. However, there were aspects of this game that brought cheer to the Irish even in the depths of their present gloom.

The first is that their team competed with vigour, which they manifestly did not do so against Scotland last month. They showed glimpses of fire and ingenuity, which were absent at Murrayfield. What was missing yesterday was what has been missing for some years now from Ireland teams - enough skilled players to form a successful core.

These men will not be found until the coaching and organisation structure, to name but two, are set to rights, but at least Gerry Murphy, the coach, has got them going in the right direction.

The French were kept in check, sort of, for 60 minutes. The Irish pack looked much stronger than it had in Scotland. The line-out went mainly with the throw-in and with the wind at their backs the Irish attacked relentlessly for most of the first half.

Significantly, however, their only scores were two penalties by Niall Malone, who missed a sitter in the 12th minute, and their main attacking weapon was the young fly-half's hefty boot. This was not a sumptuous feast of tactical play, but a starving man is grateful for crumbs from anyone's table, and at least the Irish spectators loudly supported their own team. Last season they booed the Irish at Lansdowne Road.

Against the French, though, the danger is never so great as when they have just conceded a score and, sure enough, after a darting run by Philippe Saint-Andre up the right touchline and a quick ruck, Didier Camberabero kicked a drop goal that swirled and dipped in the wind before just crossing the bar. If anything was against the run of play, this was.

But on such a windy day the French generally did themselves no favours by throwing the ball around as if they were playing sevens on a summer's day in Biarritz. Again and again they attempted long passes that were simply blown all over the place. On top of this they were clearly knocked out of their stride by Ireland's determination.

The crucial spell in this game came in the last quarter. France led 9-6 and were beginning to turn the screw, attacking down the left, down the right and down the middle.

Only desperate defence by Ireland kept them out and in one spell of intense pressure Camberabero missed a drop goal; Pierre Hontas was stopped in the corner; Marc Cecillon barrelled his way to the line only to be held up by stout Irish defence; Jean-Baptiste Lafond was only a body length from Ireland's line when he put a foot in to touch; and Saint-Andre seemed to have scored after an interception. But somehow, though, Ireland kept their line intact throughout this intense barrage.

Something, inevitably, had to give. France were the better team, with more talented players to launch attacks and create problems and, besides, Ireland looked as though they were beginning to feel the pace.

Sure enough, Saint-Andre got across the line for a try, this time by leaping, salmon-like, to catch a deft kick ahead by Aubin Hueber, the scrum-half, and beating Ireland's cover to the line. In the last minute, with France continuing to apply the pressure, Phillipe Sella wriggled his way over the line for a try.

A 15-point margin was just about right, sufficient to send the French happily back to Paris and not too disastrous for Ireland. After all, they might have lost by 25 points. These days they have to be grateful for small mercies.

IRELAND: C Clarke (Terenure Coll); S Geoghegan (London Irish), V Cunningham (St Mary's Coll), P Danaher, R Wallace (both Garryowen); N Malone (London Irish), M Bradley (Cork Constitution, capt); N Popplewell (Greystones), T Kingston (Dolphin), P Clohessy (Young Munster), N Francis (Blackrock College), P Johns (Dungannon), D McBride (Malone), P O'Hara (Cork Constitution), M Galwey (Shannon). Replacement: B Glennon (Lansdowne) for Danaher, 75 min.

FRANCE: J-B Lafond (Begles); P Saint-Andre (Montferrand), P Sella (Agen), T Lacroix (Dax), P Hontas (Biarritz); D Camberabero (Beziers), A Hueber (Toulon); L Armary (Lourdes), J-F Tordo (Nice, capt), L Seigne (Merignac), A Benazzi (Agen), O Roumat (Dax), P Benetton (Agen), M Cecillon (Bourgoin), L Cabannes (Racing).

Referee: D Leslie (Scotland).

Scores: Malone (pen, 23 min, 3-0); Malone (pen, 31 min, 6-0); Camberabero (drop goal, 32 min, 6-3); Camberabero (pen, 40 min, 6-6); Camberabero (pen, 47 min, 6-9); Saint-Andre (try, 71 min, 6-14); Sella/Camberabero (try/conv, 81 min, 6-21).