A lot of people have gone meekly to their doom in Paris down the years, but Ireland's chosen method of self-destruction defied belief yesterday. Long before half-time, Ireland had been put to the sword, both on the field and up on the scoreboard.
You had to wonder where all that brio and brimming self-confidence demonstrated just a few weeks ago by the Munster pack and Leinster's backs had gone. Worst of all, the Parisians were laughing at Ireland's ineptitude. It was that sad.
Ireland's stunning comeback from the ashes of 43-3, when the match was over, should be seen in that light. The French had eased off, prematurely, and paid the price. But not even four Irish tries in a 13-minute spell could obliterate the memory of what had preceded it. Courageous, yes, but how can you expect to win from 43-3 down?
Geordan Murphy was surely the first man up on to the scaffold last night for an abject personal performance in the first half. Murphy the builder knows a thing or two about constructing sound platforms but this Murphy was good only for a personal demolition job. First, he allowed the French wing Aurélien Rougerie to step him, skip past in only a couple of yards of space and race on for the first try. Then Murphy got in a shocking mix-up with Denis Leamy in attempting to clear a long drop-out. Their collision left Frédéric Michalak the simple task of picking up the loose ball and sending Olivier Magne in under the posts.
True, Murphy could not be blamed for David Marty's two tries - both were down to Ronan O'Gara kicks, which were hopelessly late and easily charged down. But then Murphy completed the first-half horror show, hurling a dreadful pass infield straight into the arms of Cédric Heymans, who scorched 40 metres to score unopposed. When Murphy plays like this he looks like a clown, not a courtier.
For the most part, Ireland looked ponderous in possession and were prone to throw passes either forward or straight into touch. Murphy - yes, him again - managed one of those, although that did not matter because the French had already been penalised for offside.
No one epitomised better the pace and power of the French side than the flanker Yannick Nyanga. France have had some wonderful back-row players down the years, men such as Jean-Pierre Rives, Jean-Claude Skréla, Michel Crauste and Christian Carrère.
Nyanga is a modern back-rower, immensely tough in the close-contact work and a fearsome tackler but also happy playing fast and loose out wide. The entire field is his domain. He carries and handles with aplomb and fits this French team in this mood like a glove. His contribution yesterday might not have been flash, but it was invaluable.Reuse content