France 20 Ireland 22 match report: Ireland hold on to give Brian O'Driscoll perfect end to glittering career

Irish seal Championship as a fitting tribute to the retiring legend

stade de france

Brian O’Driscoll’s world record 141st and last Test match ended with a victory lap of honour around the stadium in Paris as Ireland won the Six Nations’ Championship for only the second time since 1985 in a dramatic finale to this season’s tournament.

The eminent Dubliner has given this writer and millions of rugby-lovers so much pleasure through his gifts. Arguably the world’s greatest ever centre threequarter – and certainly one of the foremost masters of the game in the open era – he predicted the tears would flow, once there had been the assistance of “multiple beers on board”. Until that release of emotion, O’Driscoll was reluctant even to peel the sweat-stained green Ireland jersey from his back, knowing this time would be the last time.

He has a few weeks remaining of his farewell season, in which he will bid to add a fourth Heineken Cup with his province Leinster to his many achievements – even though he admitted regret here at the one that got away, a win over the All Blacks, against whom O’Driscoll played 14 times and lost the lot, most recently last November. “You can’t have it all,” he said, “and there’s a great sense of happiness to finish on a high after so many nearlys.”

And in helping Ireland to pip England to this Six Nations title on points difference, in the very stadium where he first grabbed global attention with three tries 14 years ago, O’Driscoll exited the Test stage with a Palladium-sized dollop of the theatrical.

Among the incidents and accidents of a scoreless last quarter, the referee Steve Walsh used television replays to disallow a French try two minutes from time, and Ireland used their favourite choke-tackle to halt the mighty Sebastien Vahaamahina, sealing only their second win in Paris since 1972; the other had been on O’Driscoll’s hat-trick day in 2000.

It was O’Driscoll’s second Championship to go with the one he won as captain with a Grand Slam in 2009, as Ireland succeeded where the other three contenders England, Wales and France had failed by winning away to a main rival.

In 43 meetings since 1975 Ireland had managed just five wins. But this glory game ended early for Johnny Sexton, who had ridden a rollercoaster of two tries and good and bad goal-kicks, until Mathieu Bastareaud’s forearm collided with his head. Ireland’s Lions fly-half was carried off but soon recovered.

Two tries in six minutes midway through the first half had enabled Ireland to overturn France’s lead of 6-0 given them by two penalties from Maxime Machenaud, both for not releasing after the tackle.

On 20 minutes, Paul O’Connell was grappled by Louis Picamoles but freed the ball for Chris Henry, with a one-handed pass, to send Sexton over. Then Ireland exploited poor French defence at a scrum with O’Driscoll barging into Rémi Talès and Conor Murray shooting clear before feeding Andrew Trimble, with a conversion by Sexton for 12-6.

Showing some of the dash of the win over England here in the Championship’s opening weekend, France responded in the 30th minute with a classic cross-kick try: Talès, starting for the first time in this Six Nations, to Yoann Huget leaping on the right to beat Rob Kearney and tap down for Brice Dulin.

The superb conversion by Machenaud was followed by an awful penalty miss by Sexton just before half-time but the finest way to get over that was for Sexton to repeat his feat in the thrashing of Italy last weekend that boosted Ireland’s points difference, by grabbing his second try.

Five minutes into the second half, France had been depleted by both starting props going off. They pushed an attack too hard and fumbled it, and Ireland went almost the length of the field with Trimble piercing the cover and O’Driscoll sidestepping Dulin – “I knew I didn’t have the gas to get him on the outside,” the great man smiled – before Sexton took a simple scoring line off a ruck and added the conversion. With a penalty by Sexton in the 53rd minute Ireland had a two-score lead.

That soon became one, via what looked a lucky escape for Cian Healy making a dangerous clear-out on Picamoles, when Dimitri Szarzewski finished a punishing series of rucks at the base of a post and Machenaud converted before giving way to Jean-Marc Doussain. The next thing to give way, after Sexton’s injury, was Ireland’s scrum, but Doussain missed the 30-metre penalty. Doussain was whistled up for holding on, then something similar befell Ireland.

A safe pass by Pascal Papé to Damien Chouly would have broken the Irish but Rob Kearney harried the France captain into fluffing it. Then came Vahaamahina’s rumble when it seemed the entire Emerald Isle were on the Frenchman’s back.

The Ireland and former Leinster head coach, Joe Schmidt, had only mentioned the O’Driscoll farewell once in the build-up. “The players were conscious enough of wanting it to be special,” said Schmidt, “and I think they achieved that.”

France: B Dulin; Y Huget, M Bastareaud, G Fickou (M Mermoz, 76), M Medard; R Tales, M Machenaud (J-M Doussain, 67); T Domingo (V Debaty, 41), D Szarzewski (G Guirado, 68), N Mas, (R Slimani, 37), P Pape (capt), Y Maestri (A Flanquart, 53), L Picamoles (S Vahaamahina, 66), A Lapandry (W Lauret, 76), D Chouly.

Ireland: R Kearney; A Trimble, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy (F McFadden, 67), D Kearney; J Sexton (I Madigan, 68), C Murray (E Reddan, 63); C Healy (J McGrath, 71), R Best (S Cronin, 71), M Ross (M Moore, 63), D Toner, P O’Connell (capt), P O’Mahony (I Henderson, 63), C Henry, J Heaslip.

Referee: S Walsh (Australia)

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms