Keith Earls has criticised the officials’ failure to award Ireland a penalty in the final throes of yesterday’s 13-13 RBS 6 Nations draw with France at the Aviva Stadium.
With the scores locked after the French had struck back in the last 10 minutes, Earls was nudged over the touchline by replacement prop Vincent Debaty as they chased Eoin Reddan’s cute chip into the right corner.
The intervention enabled number eight Louis Picamoles, the source of France’s 74th-minute try, to touch down and television match official Nigel Whitehouse judged the contact between Debaty and Earls as legal.
Earls felt at least a penalty that would have offered the chance to win a match they dominated for 50 minutes should have been awarded as he was confident of winning the race for the ball.
Instead, what could be Brian O’Driscoll’s final appearance at the Aviva Stadium ended with injury-depleted Ireland lamenting another missed opportunity.
“In my eyes it was definitely a penalty, I’d have to see it again to see if it was a penalty try. He knocked me off my feet and came across my line,” the Munster wing said.
“It wasn’t even a shoulder, he used his elbow and forearm to push me off my feet. My eyes lit up, it’s been a while since I’ve scored a try for Ireland.
“And it could have been a winner against France, so it’s heartbreaking. I thought that was a bad decision. In my eyes I would have reached the ball.”
Ireland had produced a tactical masterclass in the first half as they established a deserved 13-3 lead through the accomplished goalkicking of Paddy Jackson and an 11th-minute pushover try from Jamie Heaslip.
But having adapted so well to the incessant rain and swirling wind, they failed to capitalise on a commanding spell after the interval that ended with a botched drop-goal attempt.
For once benefiting from the substitutions of their coach Philippe Saint-Andre, France capitalised on Ireland’s fading energy levels and ever-increasing injury problems to secure a second successive draw in the fixture.
“This is the third year on the trot that we’ve outplayed France. Some decisions didn’t go our way, but we also didn’t keep our composure,” Earls said.
“I don’t think we lacked anything, it was more about the decisions. We gave France a bit of a sniff at the end.
“We played the conditions well, something we didn’t do against England, they did it to us. We thought we played well and were on the road to victory.”
Ireland will be in the running for the wooden spoon if they lose to Italy in Rome on Saturday and it has been a deeply disappointing Six Nations, even allowing for their vast injury list.
Head coach Declan Kidney, whose contract expires this summer, offered a strong post-match defence of his team, praising the manner in which they have faced challenging circumstances.
Having read out the names of six players to have received fresh injuries yesterday, he then quipped “everyone else is all right”, only to realise he had forgotten Fergus McFadden’s rib problem.
The most serious injury against France was substitute scrum-half Reddan’s fractured leg, but O’Driscoll, Luke Marshall and Donnacha Ryan are doubts for Rome.
Yet despite the constantly changing personnel and players performing through the pain barrier, Ireland must still be frustrated by their inability to turn winning positions into victories.
“We want to finish on a high and put in a full 80-minute performance. We need to finish the campaign on a good note,” Earls said.
“It’s never hard to get up for an international game, especially in Rome where the Italians are strong.
“They’ve taken few big scalps out there so it’s still a massive game.”