France 43 Ireland 31: Laporte left guessing after surviving Ireland's wild ride

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The Independent Online

Bernard Laporte and Eddie O'Sullivan are the longest serving coaches among the world's major unions and they may have thought they had seen it all. No way.

This match broke the mould for unpredictability and O'Sullivan, whose Ireland side presented the French with the win on a plate then very nearly snatched it back again, had a good word for it: "Freaky".

Other f-words might have sprung to mind as the Irish, from the second minute when their rush defence was circumvented by Aurélien Rougerie for the first of France's six tries, by rapid turns seized the initiative and tossed it away. Ireland had plenty of ball but by the 48th minute they were down 43-3.

Then they scored four converted tries and might have had a couple more. France were ruthless on the counter-attack and tackled like demons but finished up hanging on for dear life. They were out on their feet and so too were Ireland. It was reminiscent of the Thriller in Manilla: France's Muhammad Ali outlasting Ireland's Joe Frazier.

O'Sullivan, in his fifth Six Nations in charge, put five French tries down to Irish errors but said: "I'm not going to beat the team up over those mistakes." They were beaten up enough for one weekend. The captain, Brian O'Driscoll, was helped off, exhausted and nursing a sore hamstring, after brilliantly leading the fightback. He should be fine but the prognosis on Paul O'Connell was expected to be worse, with the lock set for a scan on an injured shoulder. The intensity prompted O'Sullivan, in a pre-breakfast debrief yesterday, to describe as "asinine" the suggestion favoured by clubs in England that the Championship should be condensed into five weeks.

Laporte's ire was aimed at the catcalling crowd - "we should fill the ground with volunteers and amateurs who know the game" - but the truth is no one knew what to make of it all. Rarely have the checks and balances of ambition versus risk, and aggressive defence against insistent attack, see-sawed so violently. It was a surprise to see Ireland so adventurous yet they were too loose, too early, for their own good.

France established base camp at the scrum, and Ireland's accuracy of passing was initially very poor. Ronan O'Gara at fly-half was twice charged down for tries by David Marty, the French centre, and Geordan Murphy threw a heart-in-mouth interception to Cédric Heymans, who also got two tries. For the Irish it was like having the hangover before the drink.

"Stuff like that happens maybe once a game but for us it happened five times," said Gordon D'Arcy, O'Driscoll's fellow centre. "We could have quite easily shipped 70 or 80 points." That they didn't was due in part to a raft of French substitutions and also to D'Arcy and O'Driscoll ripping apart the home midfield in the last half-hour.

O'Connell and Denis Leamy scribbled rousing definitions of ball-carrying forwards. "If we could reproduce that second half in every game a lot of teams would be afraid to play us," D'Arcy said, and the Championship as a whole is looking a lot more open and vital as a result.

Crazy as it was - Ireland topped 30 points for the first time in 82 meetings with France - we had in one sense been this way before. Wales and Scotland, though not yet England, have scored heavily at the Stade de France in recent seasons. It suggests something amiss with the French psyche against so-called weaker opposition. The sheer concentration of effort as O'Gara, D'Arcy, Donncha O'Callaghan and Andrew Trimble went over between the 59th and 70th minutes took the breath away.

The talk from France was of too much contact work in training, and the recall of two thirty-somethings in Magne and Raphaël Ibañez after the opening defeat in Scotland was arguably out of kilter with the youthful zest of Yannick Nyanga and Julien Bonnaire. Not that the 32-year-old Magne looked out of place when he ran in France's second try following a collision between Leamy and Murphy as they chased back to deal with Heymans' opportunistic 22-metre drop out. Magne said he wasn't making any plans for next year's World Cup. That's Laporte's job and a vexatious one it must be.

The mountain of match statistics made fascinating reading. The French made 148 tackles and three of their forwards - Nyanga, Fabien Pelous and Jérôme Thion - contributed eight more than Ireland's 35 put together. The Irish completed 198 passes to 84 by France, 34 offloads in the tackle to nine and won 100 rucks to 27. These figures and more supported the contention of O'Sullivan and D'Arcy that Ireland "played all the rugby". But they lost.

Do the maths, if you like, or scratch your head and smile at another daft chapter in the ever-surprising story of the Six Nations. It was "Freaky Saturday".

France: C Dominici (Stade Français); A Rougerie (Clermont Auvergne), F Fritz (Toulouse), D Marty (Perpignan), C Heymans (Toulouse); F Michalak (Toulouse), J-B Elissalde (Toulouse); O Milloud (Bourgoin), R Ibañez (Wasps), P de Villiers (Stade Français), F Pelous (Toulouse, capt), J Thion (Biarritz), Y Nyanga (Toulouse), O Magne (London Irish), J Bonnaire (Bourgoin). Replacements: B Boyet (Bourgoin) for Michalak, 68; D Yachvili (Biarritz) for Elissalde, 57; S Marconnet (Stade Français) for Milloud, 57; S Bruno (Sale Sharks) for Ibañez, 46; L Nallet (Castres) for Nyanga, 70; R Martin (Stade Français) for Magne, 39-40; 57.

Ireland: G Murphy (Leicester); S Horgan (Leinster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), G D'Arcy (Leinster), T Bowe (Ulster); R O'Gara (Munster), P Stringer (Munster); R Corrigan (Leinster), J Flannery (Munster), J Hayes (Munster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Easterby (Llanelli Scarlets), D Wallace (Munster), D Leamy (Munster). Replacements: A Trimble (Ulster) for Bowe, 61; E Reddan (Wasps) for O'Driscoll, 75; S Best (Ulster) for Corrigan, 50; D O'Callaghan (Munster) for O'Kelly, 50.

Referee: P Honiss (New Zealand).

Stade de France statistics

* TOP CARRIES

Geordan Murphy 9

Brian O'Driscoll 8

Gordon D'Arcy 5

Denis Leamy 4

Olivier Magne 4

* TOP TACKLERS

Yannick Nyanga 17

Fabien Pelous 14

Jérôme Thion 12

Julien Bonnaire 9

Remy Martin 9

* MOST MISSED TACKLES

Yannick Nyanga 4

David Marty 3

Ronan O'Gara 3

Sébastien Bruno 2

Fabien Pelous 2

* MOST OFFLOADS FROM TACKLE

Shane Horgan 8

Gordon D'Arcy 4

Denis Leamy 3

Paul O'Connell 3

Brian O'Driscoll 3

* MOST ERRORS

Frédéric Michalak 11

Gordon D'Arcy 7

Geordan Murphy 4

Yannick Nyanga 4

Ronan O'Gara 4

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