Rugby Union: Ireland stand up for the forgotten nations

Five Nations: France look far from impregnable under pressure as the green bravehearts refuse to drop; Jonathan Davies says every underdog has his day as Celtic spirits are lifted in Paris
Click to follow
The Independent Online
IRELAND did us all a favour by issuing this exciting reminder that you can never write this tournament off as a two-horse race. The only blot on their performance was that they didn't manage to win - but you can put that down to bad luck because they certainly deserved to.

The French tripped over their own cockiness and were lucky to sneak a win by two points. I thought Eric Elwood might have had a drop at goal in the final movement but they went for a try and nearly got what would have been a sensational Irish win.

But you couldn't ask more than what they achieved yesterday. The Irish not only struck a blow for their Celtic brothers, they proved that the way to success in this game is to concentrate on playing to your strengths. I think both Scotland and Wales could learn that lesson, although winning was the only thing that mattered at Wembley so it might be unfair to judge them on that performance. Wales still need to concentrate on their strength, which is their backline and they must recycle the ball quicker to them.

Saying that, I think Wales just about deserved their win for composing themselves better in the second half. And while they took their chances and took their goals Scotland wasted what opportunities came their way and Craig Chalmers's kicking boots weren't on form.

It may be a new world for rugby but it's exactly the same game when it comes to basics. The difference between the sides in Paris yesterday was that Ireland remembered to get them right and France didn't even bother to try. It's all very well to chuck the ball around like the Harlem Globetrotters but if you try to be expansive without first establishing a solid platform you are likely to be vulnerable. And so they were.

The Irish based their game on the strength they had in the back-row and at half-back where Conor McGuinness, my man of the match, and Elwood did exactly what they wanted to do. They controlled the game, sniping here and darting there. I feel sorry for Brian Ashton, who resigned as Irish coach earlier in the week in what now seems a premature departure. Perhaps he tried too hard to get them to play his way when he should have let them play their way.

It was in defence that Ireland produced their most effective weapon. They might have had to scramble at times but the way their defence spread across the field was brilliant. They didn't wait for the French attacks to hit them but flew out to meet them and by getting among the attackers they disrupted their passing. Even when the French had overlaps there was usually an Irishman in the middle of them. That's how Denis Hickie scored a superb interception try.

It helped that the French played right into Irish hands. For a start, they didn't pay the Irish any respect and obviously thought they could pick up where they left off against Scotland. But against the Scots they didn't let fly until their forwards had built a platform - yesterday they were too over-confident to bother with any structure and threw silly passes around.

There was no direction about their play and the whole side was guilty of being naive. Forwards wanted to run the ball from every position instead of concentrating on grinding Ireland down before setting their backs at them. They've been reading too many stories about the Grand Slam already being theirs. The fact that Ireland hadn't scored a try in Paris since 1980 would have helped towards France's feeling of invincibility. But you can't take liberties like that against the Irish, who have a long history of upsetting opponents who don't take them seriously.

France did have one thing going for them - luck. There was no doubt that Jean-Luc Sadourny did not ground the ball when he slid over the line with Paul Wallace in pursuit in the first half. It should have been an Irish try. Just imagine what an Irish victory would have done to those who have been writing off the Five Nations as three too many. They did enough, however, to rejuvenate the magic of the tournament.

What is more, they did it simply - just by putting their house in order and remembering that the championship is exactly as it always was. We can't thank them enough for that.