Kidney's men pay heavy penalty for errors as France cling to victory

Ireland 22 France 25
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The Independent Online

So, Ireland's hopes of a Grand Slam are gone. Now it is a question of embracing that reality and turning it into a positive over their remaining Six Nations outings.

And it can be done. The consistent message has been that Declan Kidney and his squad were not looking beyond this tournament and they would worry about the World Cup afterwards. There is still a championship to be won, of course, but the imperative at this point is to build on the plus points from this rip-roaring, gut-wrenching encounter and get to work on eradicating the errors that cost them victory.

Any player will tell you that it is preferable to be on the end of a hammering than come within inches of a famous victory and be denied just as it is in your grasp. And that is what happened as Ireland launched a wonderful last-ditch drive which took them from their own 22 to the French line. Keith Earls took off down the left and stroked through a clever kick that Maxime Medard failed to deal with and when he was gobbled up the feral Irish chasers a try looked inevitable only for substitute Sean Cronin, just on for Rory Best, to knock on the ball.

There are issues to address in the two weeks before Scotland – once the hangover from this pulsating experience has abated. From Jonathan Sexton's kick-off, France were on the back foot and the Irish came at them in waves, their Leinster midfield using their trademark wrap-around move to good effect. It culminated in Gordon D'Arcy sending Luke Fitzgerald screaming down the left for a try which was correctly ruled out for a forward shovel pass.

No matter. The French foolishly ran the scrum ball and Fergus McFadden did superbly to pounce for the turnover and then worm his way over for the try several phases later, with Sexton adding the points for 7-0 after four minutes.

Ireland kept the pressure on, forcing another turnover and it was only when O'Leary knocked on that France got a foothold in the game and worked their way into the Irish half with Morgan Parra making it 7-3 after Wallace held on in the tackle.

Another knock-on, by McFadden, stymied a threatening loop move but from the scrum, Ross put the heat on Thomas Domingo, Dave Pearson gave the penalty and Sexton pushed Ireland out to 10-3 with a quarter of the game gone.

Basic errors continued to haunt Ireland and after Cian Healy won a superb ruck turnover, a poor pass put McFadden under pressure with Parra slotting the resultant penalty for 10-6. France began to crank up the gears, good ball off the back of the line-out from Imanol Harinordoquy was spun wide with Yoann Huget hurtling past Keith Earls only for O'Brien to sweep back for the tackle.

But France kept coming and soon Parra was banging over another penalty after an O'Leary error and Ireland, for all their brio, were clinging to a one-point lead. O'Leary's unhappy afternoon continued and a kick out on the full allowed the visitors to launch another attack from slick line-out ball, and a Parra penalty from 45 metres pushed them into the lead for the first time with little over 10 minutes left in the half.

France were having joy down the right but butchered a try when Clement Poitrenaud misjudged his kick, even though O'Brien was again on hand to cover. The mistakes kept coming, a spill from Fitzgerald was followed by a botched line-out, but Pearson was beginning to even up the penalty count and Ireland pushed deep into French territory.

Suddenly O'Leary exploded into life, racing on to good ball from Donncha O'Callaghan at the tail and then using his strength to barrel over for the try, courtesy of the television match official. Sexton fluffed the conversion but Ireland had the psychological boost of a 15-12 half-time lead which, given the error count, was no mean achievement.

Then a 45-metre howitzer from Parra meant scores were level 15-15 as the game entered its critical phase with half an hour left. Rougerie tore on to scrum ball and bust through D'Arcy's tackle and once the incision was made, Medard's try was a formality, substitute Dimitri Yachvili converting to make it 22-15.

Yachvili kicked a penalty from the wide right for a 25-15 advantage with 17 minutes left on the clock. O'Gara was on at this stage to attempt a Houdini act altogether more challenging than the one he pulled off in Rome.

Finally, we had ball kicked deep into space. When Ross snaffled the line-out, Ireland hammered away for 25 phases before O'Gara's attempted thread through bounced up for Wallace who put Heaslip over in the corner, brilliantly converted by O'Gara off the upright for 25-22.

France went into lockdown mode. Then came the Irish guts-and-glory effort, to no avail. Three tries to one against France is pretty impressive. If Ireland could hold on to the ball, Kidney would have one hell of a team.

Ireland: Tries McFadden, O'Leary, Heaslip; Cons Sexton, O'Gara; Pen Sexton. France: Try Medard; Con Yachvili; Pens Parra 5, Yachvili.

Ireland LM Fitzgerald; F McFadden, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, K Earls; J Sexton (R O'Gara 62), T O'Leary (E Reddan 68); C Healy (T Court 56), R Best (S Cronin 75), M Ross; D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (L Cullen 79); S O'Brien, D Wallace, J Heaslip.

France C Poitrenaud; Y Huget, A Rougerie, D Traille (Y Jauzion 72), M Medard; F Trinh-Duc, M Parra (D Yachvili 53); T Domingo (S Marconnet 50), W Servat, N Mas; J Pierre (J Thion 70), L Nallet; T Dusatoir, J Bonnaire (S Chabal 53), I Harinordoquy.

Referee D Pearson (England).

The match statistics


Ireland 3 Tries France 1

Ireland 2/3 Conversions France 1/1

Ireland 1/1 Penalties France 6/7

Ireland 0/0 Drop goals France 0/1

Phases of play

Ireland 4 Scrums won France 7

Ireland 0 Scrums lost France 1

Ireland 7 Line-outs won France 6

Ireland 3 Line-outs lost France 2

Ireland 9 Pens conceded France 8

Ireland 2 Mauls won France 3

Ireland 19 Ruck and drive France 20

Ireland 50 Ruck and pass France 62Team statistics

Ireland 126 Passes made France 152

Ireland 3 Line breaks France 1

Ireland 10 Possession kicked France 15

Ireland 1 Kicks to touch France 3

Ireland 108 Tackles made France 88

Ireland 4 Tackles missed France 3

Ireland 10 Offloads in tackle France 13

Ireland 17 Total errors made France 9

Ball won

Ireland 71 In open play France 85

Ireland 44 In opponent's 22 France 7

Ireland 19 At set-pieces France 22

Ireland 4 Turnovers won France 1