Insistent Irish overcome fast French

Ireland 30 France 21: O'Driscoll leads by example as his team hang on to victory despite spirited fightback

By Peter Bills
Sunday 08 February 2009 01:00

Could this have been the long-awaited re-awakening of Irish rugby? A performance of so much greater breadth and invention compared with the stodgy, stilted performances of the Eddie O'Sullivan years carried Ireland to their first victory over France in eight meetings and got them past the first hurdle to a potential title-winning season.

There were muted celebrations in Dublin last night and that was not just because this nation is down on its heels in a financial sense. Too many people have witnessed too many false dawns in Irish rugby in recent times so caution was justified.

Nevertheless, this was a vastly improved display under the new coach Declan Kidney. For a start, Ireland played with a freedom they were rarely permitted under O'Sullivan's rigid mantra. They outscored France by three tries to two and given some of the consummate attacks and raids launched by Marc Lièvremont's men, that was some feat in itself.

Indeed, at times and especially in the first half, France looked in another league from a technical point of view. They played some classic French rugby, their backs sweeping downfield with ball in hand, sometimes making 60 or 70 metres.

Against a less organised defence, they would surely have managed more tries than those by Imanol Harinordoquy, albeit from a clear forward pass after 14 minutes, and the flying Maxime Médard, 10 minutes into the second half.

Ireland just had to hang on at times but in doing so, they showed thespirit, will and sheer refusal to buckle so typical of Kidney's former charges at Munster. That provincial attitude has clearly been brought to thenational arena by Kidney and Ireland looked a better side for it.

As the French storm raged, chiefly in the first half, Ireland had few opportunities to draw breath. But a brilliant opening try by No 8 Jamie Heaslip after 34 minutes lifted the siege and confirmed that Ireland's players have the attacking verve and imagination to cut open any defence.

Rob Kearney and Tommy Bowe made good ground down the left and when Ireland won rapid second-phase possession and cleared it going right, Heaslip cut a quite brilliant angle of attack in midfield. The France full-back, Clément Poitrenaud, was turned this way and that before Heaslip found the afterburners to reach the line on a 40-metre run.

Lionel Beauxis, who had had the living daylights knocked out of him at one stage in the first half in a Brian O'Driscoll tackle, dropped a goal in first-half injury-time to trim Ireland's lead at the break to 13-10.

Ireland were lucky to be ahead but they lifted their game after half-time, inspired in part by a vintage try by the posts from captain O'Driscoll, who slipped Beauxis's poor tackle to score. Ronan O'Gara's conversion made it 20-10 but within 10 minutes, France had got it back to 20-18.

A poor up-and-under from Beauxis bounced fortuitously into Harinordoquy's arms and he set off downfield. When the ball was recycled from the breakdown, Beauxis planted a much better kick into space for Médard to seize it and score. Beauxis could not convert but his 53rd-minute drop goal put France within two points.

At that stage, Paul O'Connell began to look like a Lions captain-in-waiting. The Irish lock won some superb line-out ball and, together with the hard working Donncha O'Callaghan, gave Ireland a crucial edge at the heart of the forwards. Together with the outstanding Heaslip and his industrious back-row colleagues, the Irish pack gradually got on top.

O'Connell, Marcus Horan and Stephen Ferris drove hard for the line from a 66th-minute attacking position before Gordon D'Arcy, who had replaced the bloodied Paddy Wallace, scored a crucial try to wipe away the memory of his year-long absence from the side and three operations on a broken arm.

Beauxis and O'Gara exchanged late penalties but the die was long since cast. At last, Ireland had thrown off the yoke and played some serious, searing rugby. They looked so much more dangerous and effective for it.

Ireland: R Kearney (G Murphy, 75); T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (capt), P Wallace (G D'Arcy, 28-35; 62), L Fitzgerald; R O'Gara, T O'Leary; M Horan, J Flannery (R Best, 48), J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, S Ferris (D Leamy, 72), D Wallace, J Heaslip.

France: C Poitrenaud; J Malzieu, Y Jauzion, F Fritz, M Médard; L Beauxis, S Tillous-Borde; L Fauré, D Szarzewski (B Keyser, 58), B Lecouls (N Mas, 40), L Nallet (capt), S Chabal (R Millo-Chluski, 62), T Dusautoir, F Ouedraogo, I Harinordoquy.

Referee: N Owens (Wales).

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