Green wave heads for Wales

Ireland 15

This tryless win stretched Ireland's victorious run to nine games and provided high expectations that this could be Ireland's most glorious year of the professional era.

However, before March 29, Ireland face an awkward test against a wounded Wales.

Not surprisingly the talk was all about England, but Clive Woodward can wait.

"I think we have to take the Welsh game into account before anything else," said scrum-half Peter Stringer. "We're wise enough to realise that Wales will provide us with very difficult opposition in Cardiff. They have nothing to lose.

"There is no real pressure on them now and they will want to prove a point. As far as we're concerned it will be one step at a time".

The weather was the most malevolent influence in this encounter, but the performance of South African referee Andre Watson didn't help.

Neither Watson nor his touch judges Steve Lander and Nigel Williamson took any notice of the offside laws. The consequence was a stifling of Ireland's midfield attack.

Yet, if tries were impossible to come by and this Irish side have still scored eight in the current championship there were some memorable moments in a bruising challenge.

If fancy footwork wasn't quite on the agenda, the Irish proved that they do have a plan B.

Take a bow, Mike Ford. These guys are as mean and as hungry going backwards as they are on the front foot and one shuddering tackle by captain Brian O'Driscoll will live long in the memory.

A couple of moments before half time, the French were desperate to strike a psychological blow from no more than a yard off Ireland's line. O'Driscoll put his body on the line to save the day and a certain try.

French coach Bernard Laporte made much of the work France had put in to give his side an edge in the line-out and the scrums.

Ireland stole three of the French throws and pressurised them in the scrums. Advantage Ireland and, most notably, Marcus Horan.

The ultimate compliment to the Shannon prop was that France unleashed Christian Califano from the bench to replace Sylvian Marconnet after 50 minutes.

This victory was, of course, much more than just about one man. Malcolm O'Kelly lorded it out of touch and replacement Leo Cullen gave Ireland an extra edge at number two before Alan Quinlan came on to contribute positively.

Strangely, David Humphreys picked up the man of the match laurels, because his contribution was moderate in difficult conditions.

"The wind was all over the place," said drop goal hero Geordan Murphy. "It was really very hard to make a call. One minute it was at our backs, going from right to left, the next minute it was in our faces and going the opposite direction."

Murphy set the ball rolling for Ireland in the second minute but admitted that it was a stroke of good luck.

"The opportunity arose, but only because I didn't have any choice. We had called a move and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. As it happened, the move wasn't on and I just took the chance of a drop goal."

Murphy proved as adept in defence as in attack: "I caught a few high ones. In the conditions that was pleasing enough."

If Ireland did appear to lack the thrust going forward, they will put this to the back of their minds.

"Tomorrow is another day. Things don't always go your way. You get those games when try-scoring opportunities don't arise. I think we had one or two chances and France had one or two, but we know of our capabilities. In different circumstances, we are well able to score," said Murphy.

So what of Wales?

"We are under no illusions. It's going to be as big and as important a game as any of the others. My first priority has to be to get on the team. After that, I'll take it as it comes, but I know that we won't be taking anything for granted against the Welsh.

"The Six Nations is a unique competition and every year it throws up something different, including some surprises. That's why we have to keep the heads down, work on further improvements and treat every side with the same degree of respect."

IRELAND: G. Murphy (Leicester), J. Kelly (Cork Constitution), B. O'Driscoll (Blackrock/ captain); K. Maggs (Bath), D. Hickie (St. Mary's), D. Humphreys (Dungannon), P. Stringer (Shannon), M. Horan (Shannon), S. Byrne (Blackrock), J. Hayes (Shannon), G. Longwell (Ballymena), M. O'Kelly (St. Mary's), V. Costello (St. Mary's), A. Foley (Shannon), K. Gleeson (St. Mary's).

Replacements. L. Cullen (Blackrock) for Longwell (36, injured), A. Quinlan (Shannon) for Costello (67).

FRANCE: C. Poitrenaud (Toulouse), A. Rougerie (Montferrand), X Garbajosa (Toulouse), D. Traille (Pau), V. Clerc (Toulouse), F. Gelez (Agen), D. Yachvili (Biarritz), J. J. Crenca (Agen), R. Ibanez (Castres), S. Marconnet (Stade Francais), F. Pelous (Toulouse) captain; O. Brouzet (Montferrand), S. Betsen (Biarritz), I. Harinardoquy (Pau), O. Magne (Montferrand).

Replacements. C. Califano (Saracens) for Marconnet (50), S. Chabal (Bourgoin) for Betsen (72).

Referee. A. Watson (South Africa)

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