‘Agony to ecstasy in about 10 seconds’

Cian Healy could not watch and Mike Ross had his head in his hands as Ireland hung on for the victory that gave them their first medals in Test rugby.

‘Agony to ecstasy in about 10 seconds’

Their shifts already completed at Stade de France, the props had done more than their fair share at the coalface of the scrum to quell a determined French pack looking for redemption after a torrid Six Nations championship.

Yet watching from the sidelines as their replacements tried to finish the job in a cauldron of a stadium, neither of them could bear the tension of those closing, nail-biting passages of play.

“I couldn’t,” Healy said. “I had to rely on [Rory Best] Besty’s commentary in my ear, I couldn’t look up. I couldn’t watch it.”

Ross, meanwhile, was trying his best to warm down when Pascal Papé threw that forward pass to Damien Chouly that ruled out France’s potentially match-winning try in the 79th minute.

“Oh God, I was sitting on a bike spinning away and I just had my head in my hands,” Ross said, “it looks forward but we’ve all seen calls where the team have decided that it’s fine, so I went from agony to ecstasy in about 10 seconds.”

Pain, then joy, at least it was the right way around for two players who made their name in the Ireland front row after the 2009 Grand Slam and the winding down of their predecessors Marcus Horan and John Hayes. There have been some hard times since, some great wins undone by crushing disappointments, but both Leinster props were understandably relishing their long-awaited brush with Six Nations success.

“Bloody great,” Healy said. “There were a lot of upsetting ones before and that’s really made it nice. I’ll enjoy this one,” while Ross, 34, said it meant “everything” to him to finally add international silverware to the European glory he had experienced with his province.

“I mean let’s face it, there’s probably not too many of these left for me so I’m just delighted, absolutely delighted.”

Now the target was to push on to greater success under their former Leinster boss Joe Schmidt.

“You wouldn’t be playing if you didn’t believe you could go forward,” said Healy. “It’s a strong, focused team and there are a lot of players hanging in there that are ready to go and to start moving forward, and really putting Ireland as one of the dominant forces in world rugby.”

That, of course, means success at the World Cup but there was no reason to suggest a northern hemisphere team could not achieve that at next year’s tournament so close to home in England.

“There’s a lot of rugby to be played before the World Cup [but] there’s no reason for it to not be [possible]. We’ve been playing good rugby, England have been playing good rugby, France have been playing good rugby. So there will be a lot of contenders coming in from the northern hemisphere in that. But that’s a long way to go yet.”

Healy is confident Ireland can only get stronger under Schmidt.

“Of course we can, we’ve had one autumn and one Six Nations under Joe and as a unit we’re still learning. A lot of us have been with Joe for a while but to come in as a new unit and still be progressive and still learning new things — he’s brought different things from his time at Leinster, he’s brought new edges — so there’s a lot of space for this team to move forward.”

Not without some improvements, of course. Captain Paul O’Connell may have lifted the trophy but he also reminded his team-mates that it could have been plainer sailing towards the title on Saturday night.

“I was a little disappointed with the last 10 minutes, something to address in the future,” O’Connell said. “It was disappointing we didn’t close it out in a more controlled fashion.”

It wasn’t all bad cop, though, as the Irish skipper continued: “We knew where France were going to be physically, we spoke about trying to match that and go beyond it. I was delighted we scored three tries, it’s not an easy thing to do in Paris. I’ve been coming here since I was 22 and that’s my first win.”

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