You are viewing the content for Monday 13 February 2006

Paris day of extremes brings hope and despair

By Charlie Mulqueen
HAS THERE ever been a more amazing second half in the history of the International Championship?

Dead and buried at 43-3 with almost three-quarters of the match over, Ireland produced an astonishing 13-minute spell at the Stade de France, claiming four converted tries without reply to get within touching distance of the ailing French.

Ultimately, they failed by 12 points but did enough to salvage a lot of pride and prove they can still turn on the style when all previous evidence points to the contrary.

However, the critical issue is whether that second-half revival was more a case of understandable French complacency than a true reflection of Irish potential.

Like a number of his players, the transformation saved Eddie O'Sullivan from the inevitable barrage of criticism, not to mention a damaging body blow to his reputation as an international coach.

O'Sullivan claimed Ireland played some great rugby in the second half and went so far as to insist that France didn't play very well. "Except for one of their six tries, we played all the good rugby and gifted them the other five," he declared.

There are many who couldn't agree, but the statistics back him up. Ireland spent 60 of the 90 minutes in the French half and were in their 22 on 38 occasions, compared to six for the French.

The French had to put in 145 tackles as against 35 by the Irish. And had Ireland not turned over possession when swarming all over the French line on at least two occasions late in the game, the miraculous might well have happened.

On mature reflection, however, few will be left in any great doubt that this game revealed far more cracks in the Irish side than positives.

For almost an hour, the back division played as badly as possible for professional sportsmen; their failure to execute the game's basic skills like passing and kicking would have brought blushes to U12s. In this respect, Geordan Murphy and Ronan O'Gara were among the more serious culprits.

Only the always willing Shane Horgan, Peter Stringer and to a lesser extent Gordon D'Arcy emerged from the affair with their reputations untarnished.

The lack of organisation in a team in camp almost without a break for three weeks perhaps that's part of the problem handed France all but the opener of four first-half tries. And even then Murphy was culpable when he badly missed his tackle on Aurelien Rougerie on the touchline in the second minute.

As the coach put it, Ireland "gift-wrapped" four more with Murphy again guilty of throwing an appalling telegraph pass that handed a seven-pointer to Cedric Heymans.

O'Gara was similarly culpable when an attempted clearance was charged down by David Marty who also strolled beneath the posts.

Olivier Magne celebrated his return with yet another simple score and with Jean-Baptiste Elissalde tapping over the conversions against a lone O'Gara penalty, the French turned over leading 29-3 thanks almost entirely to Ireland's unforced errors.

Several of the big Irish contingent in the crowd were amazed that O'Sullivan hadn't rung the changes during the half-time break. And when Heymans scored France's fifth try and O'Gara handed another on a plate to David Marty, it was a viewpoint that gained many new adherents.

It was shortly after France went 43-3 in front that the extraordinary transformation began. At last, O'Sullivan took action. Simon Best came in for Reggie Corrigan and, belatedly, Donnacha O'Callaghan in place of Malcolm O'Kelly.

More pertinently, Denis Leamy suddenly found a new self belief and confidence and was a towering figure as he carried the fight to France.

He set up Ronan O'Gara for the first Irish try and was there or thereabouts as D'Arcy, O'Callaghan and another replacement, Andrew Trimble, capitalised on the space left by a succession of Frenchmen who prematurely considered their day's labours at an end.

Their manager, Jo Maso, certainly saw it like that. "We cracked and had it gone on another ten minutes, we'd have been in trouble."

Clearly, too, he didn't like how the Fields of Athenry was allowed to drown out the home support, whom he derisively dismissed as "bourgeoisie de merde, what do they know about rugby" in much the same manner as Roy Keane talked about prawn sandwiches at Old Trafford.

In fact, it could have been worse for Maso and his equally vexed coach Bernard Laporte, who had no way of explaining the second-half collapse.

Furthermore, Brian O'Driscoll was nursing a leg from an early stage of the game and it was an injury that eventually caused his retirement. Paul O'Connell was again immense in the Irish pack but he was carrying a badly bruised shoulder for the final 20 minutes or so.

Not that it deterred him leading charge after charge on the French citadel, supported by the awesome Leamy while O'Callaghan's half-hour of robust and effective commitment compared favourably with the lifeless O'Kelly. One was left to wonder why O'Sullivan failed to make the switch a lot earlier.

However, it is clearly evident that a malaise has overtaken O'Sullivan's team over the past five or six outings and a desperate remedy is needed to rectify a desperate situation.

FRANCE: Dominici, Rougerie, Fritz, Marty, Heymans, Michalak, Elissalde, Milloud, Ibanez, De Villiers, Pelous, Thion, Nyanga, Magne, Bonnaire.

Replacements: Boyet for Michalak (69), Yachvili for Elissalde (59), Marconnet for Milloud (59), Bruno for Ibanez (47), Nallet for Nyanga (71), Martin for Magne (59).

IRELAND: Murphy, Horgan, O'Driscoll, D'Arcy, Bowe, O'Gara, Stringer Corrigan, Flannery, Hayes, O'Kelly, O'Connell, Easterby, Wallace, Leamy.

Replacements: Reddan for O'Driscoll (77), Trimble for Bowe (62), S. Best for Corrigan (51), O'Callaghan for O'Kelly (51).

Referee: P Honiss (New Zealand).

 

Paris day of extremes brings hope and despair

By Charlie Mulqueen
HAS THERE ever been a more amazing second half in the history of the International Championship?

Dead and buried at 43-3 with almost three-quarters of the match over, Ireland produced an astonishing 13-minute spell at the Stade de France, claiming four converted tries without reply to get within touching distance of the ailing French.

Ultimately, they failed by 12 points but did enough to salvage a lot of pride and prove they can still turn on the style when all previous evidence points to the contrary.

However, the critical issue is whether that second-half revival was more a case of understandable French complacency than a true reflection of Irish potential.

Like a number of his players, the transformation saved Eddie O'Sullivan from the inevitable barrage of criticism, not to mention a damaging body blow to his reputation as an international coach.

O'Sullivan claimed Ireland played some great rugby in the second half and went so far as to insist that France didn't play very well. "Except for one of their six tries, we played all the good rugby and gifted them the other five," he declared.

There are many who couldn't agree, but the statistics back him up. Ireland spent 60 of the 90 minutes in the French half and were in their 22 on 38 occasions, compared to six for the French.

The French had to put in 145 tackles as against 35 by the Irish. And had Ireland not turned over possession when swarming all over the French line on at least two occasions late in the game, the miraculous might well have happened.

On mature reflection, however, few will be left in any great doubt that this game revealed far more cracks in the Irish side than positives.

For almost an hour, the back division played as badly as possible for professional sportsmen; their failure to execute the game's basic skills like passing and kicking would have brought blushes to U12s. In this respect, Geordan Murphy and Ronan O'Gara were among the more serious culprits.

Only the always willing Shane Horgan, Peter Stringer and to a lesser extent Gordon D'Arcy emerged from the affair with their reputations untarnished.

The lack of organisation in a team in camp almost without a break for three weeks perhaps that's part of the problem handed France all but the opener of four first-half tries. And even then Murphy was culpable when he badly missed his tackle on Aurelien Rougerie on the touchline in the second minute.

As the coach put it, Ireland "gift-wrapped" four more with Murphy again guilty of throwing an appalling telegraph pass that handed a seven-pointer to Cedric Heymans.

O'Gara was similarly culpable when an attempted clearance was charged down by David Marty who also strolled beneath the posts.

Olivier Magne celebrated his return with yet another simple score and with Jean-Baptiste Elissalde tapping over the conversions against a lone O'Gara penalty, the French turned over leading 29-3 thanks almost entirely to Ireland's unforced errors.

Several of the big Irish contingent in the crowd were amazed that O'Sullivan hadn't rung the changes during the half-time break. And when Heymans scored France's fifth try and O'Gara handed another on a plate to David Marty, it was a viewpoint that gained many new adherents.

It was shortly after France went 43-3 in front that the extraordinary transformation began. At last, O'Sullivan took action. Simon Best came in for Reggie Corrigan and, belatedly, Donnacha O'Callaghan in place of Malcolm O'Kelly.

More pertinently, Denis Leamy suddenly found a new self belief and confidence and was a towering figure as he carried the fight to France.

He set up Ronan O'Gara for the first Irish try and was there or thereabouts as D'Arcy, O'Callaghan and another replacement, Andrew Trimble, capitalised on the space left by a succession of Frenchmen who prematurely considered their day's labours at an end.

Their manager, Jo Maso, certainly saw it like that. "We cracked and had it gone on another ten minutes, we'd have been in trouble."

Clearly, too, he didn't like how the Fields of Athenry was allowed to drown out the home support, whom he derisively dismissed as "bourgeoisie de merde, what do they know about rugby" in much the same manner as Roy Keane talked about prawn sandwiches at Old Trafford.

In fact, it could have been worse for Maso and his equally vexed coach Bernard Laporte, who had no way of explaining the second-half collapse.

Furthermore, Brian O'Driscoll was nursing a leg from an early stage of the game and it was an injury that eventually caused his retirement. Paul O'Connell was again immense in the Irish pack but he was carrying a badly bruised shoulder for the final 20 minutes or so.

Not that it deterred him leading charge after charge on the French citadel, supported by the awesome Leamy while O'Callaghan's half-hour of robust and effective commitment compared favourably with the lifeless O'Kelly. One was left to wonder why O'Sullivan failed to make the switch a lot earlier.

However, it is clearly evident that a malaise has overtaken O'Sullivan's team over the past five or six outings and a desperate remedy is needed to rectify a desperate situation.

FRANCE: Dominici, Rougerie, Fritz, Marty, Heymans, Michalak, Elissalde, Milloud, Ibanez, De Villiers, Pelous, Thion, Nyanga, Magne, Bonnaire.

Replacements: Boyet for Michalak (69), Yachvili for Elissalde (59), Marconnet for Milloud (59), Bruno for Ibanez (47), Nallet for Nyanga (71), Martin for Magne (59).

IRELAND: Murphy, Horgan, O'Driscoll, D'Arcy, Bowe, O'Gara, Stringer Corrigan, Flannery, Hayes, O'Kelly, O'Connell, Easterby, Wallace, Leamy.

Replacements: Reddan for O'Driscoll (77), Trimble for Bowe (62), S. Best for Corrigan (51), O'Callaghan for O'Kelly (51).

Referee: P Honiss (New Zealand).