Down 26-6 at the time of his introduction for Malcolm O’Kelly, Ireland kept the French scoreless for the remainder of a game they lost by only five points with the visitors’ dominance up front the standout feature of the closing quarter.
Marc Lievremont’s decision to replace four of his own pack with relative international novices played a large part in that but O’Driscoll showed the sort of form that has diluted the effects of Paul O’Connell’s long-term absence in Munster.
“I was pleased with my performance but we still lost the game,” said O’Driscoll. “So, on a personal level it doesn’t really matter, it’s all about the team. We lost a match that we thought we could have won and probably should have won.
“It’s very disappointing for us all. We probably had an average first half and a good second half but in test rugby you have to play for 80 minutes to win the games and we didn’t do that.”
The Irish forwards didn’t have it all their own way against their opposite numbers.
Bernard Jackman’s play around the park impressed but his suspect line-out throwing was severely tested against an aggressive French unit.
“We always knew going into the game, especially when (Julien) Bonnaire was picked, that their line-out was going to improve dramatically from the game against the Scottish.
“It was something we worked on during the week and it’s a little harsh that people are saying our line-out didn’t function, because it did. We did lose a couple of balls, but we knew Bonnaire in particular was going to put a lot of pressure on us.”
Overall, it was a game from which more positives emerged than negatives but O’Driscoll doesn’t share the accepted wisdom that Ireland lost the game in the first 40 minutes. Opportunities to claim the win were thick on the ground after the interval, he counters. They just weren’t taken. The bounce of the ball seemed to be with the French as well but progress, he believes, has been made.
“Definitely. I know in the Six Nations you only have five games and you have to get it right from the off, but I think we certainly improved as the game went on.
“The French were lucky on a couple of occasions, like when they scored down the left side. It was a winger versus Leams, and obviously there was only going to be one winner there.
“Things like that went against us. We got the bad bounce of the ball for Heymans’ try in the second half. For us, we have to focus completely on ourselves from now on and hopefully go on and win three games.”
The Parisian post-mortem continued yesterday and will wrap up some time today after which attention will turn to the Scots and the game at Croke Park on the 23rd. Ireland are not immune to the talk that Frank Hadden’s team are “not the best team around at the minute”, as O’Driscoll delicately puts it, but the Six Nations’ healthy appetite for upsets is foremost in his mind.
“There’s disappointment there, obviously, but for us now we will just look back today and tomorrow on where things went wrong and where we can improve. From then on it’s all about the Scottish game and taking the positives from Saturday and the week before and hopefully we can put in a more complete performance against the Scots.”