TWO wins out of two, joint leaders in the Six Nations championship and not a Triple Crown match played yet.
The players will relish the memory of this one in years to come and for some of the “older brigade” it will go some way to erasing some haunting memories of previous encounters against the French.
We may have had surprise on our side last season but France were fully aware of what faced them on Saturday and the victory was all the more impressive for that.
France’s stated tactic of playing a tight game in order to subdue the threat of this Irish back division is testament in itself to the progress of this group of players over the last couple of seasons. In the first half Lamaison kicked for position in order to establish a set piece pattern and create opportunities for France to attack a perceived weak Irish scrum.
In contrast, O’Gara passed in the first half on a dozen occasions, not putting boot to ball until the 7th or 8th minute. There were a couple of scrums early on which creaked, giving rise for concern but thereafter it settled well. France needed good primary possession to make their percentage tactic count but their lineout was a shambles. A combination of excellent contesting from the Irish pack and poor throwing from Ibanez meant Ireland could launch meaningful attacks and importantly, establish continuity early.
Yet, despite an avalanche of possession, Ireland encountered a blue wall of defenders time after time. France have conceded fewer points than any side in the competition to date and the reasons why, were evident. No matter how quickly we recycled, the bruising tackles went in and Ireland’s advantage of six points seemed nowhere near enough at the interval. Constant defending takes its toll and while impressive throughout the first half, you got the impression France were happy with that scoreline, but had forgotten to play.
A 22-3 deficit with half an hour remaining, sparked a return to the free flowing style with which they are infinitely more comfortable and Ireland were fighting a rearguard action to protect their precious lead.