The sight of Dan Leavy joining the victory celebrations as players mobbed drop-goal hero Johnny Sexton gave Tadhg Furlong a chuckle as Ireland’s post-match review got underway at Carton House.
Leavy, the replacement flanker, had dived on top of the growing mass of bodies gathering on the Stade de France turf after Sexton’s dramatic overtime match-winner and the 23-year-old promptly flew over the top of the lot of them, landing head first on the other side of the heap.
Furlong described the moment as “an outpouring” which followed a pressure-filled and nerve-jangling 41 phases that had delivered a come-from-behind 15-13 win that had looked nigh impossible five minutes and 22 seconds earlier when Sexton had caught Anthony Belleau’s missed penalty under the Irish posts to restart his side’s final throw of the dice.
The joyous scenes underlined the power of a victory for team morale no matter what the circumstances. Ireland may have been kept tryless in this opening Six Nations encounter, they might not have played champagne rugby with a greasy ball in the Parisian drizzle but they will go into this Saturday’s home fixture with Italy as winners, their championship campaign off to a buoyant start and Joe Schmidt’s squad all the tighter for their experience.
“When you have such a big moment like that after being under the pump, they scored a try, we have to claw our way back and find a way to win and I suppose the manner that we did it, the manner of the drop goal and the last kick of the game and there was such a build-up, as a collective obviously it brings you a massive amount of satisfaction,” Furlong said.
“It’s the manner of the last kick of the game, you scored a goal in extra time, sort of, to clinch the win. Especially in a Six Nations match as well when it means so much. There was a lot of pressure on to perform and to win like that, there was an outpouring.”
As for Leavy’s contribution to the celebrations, tighthead prop Furlong added: “We had a little joke about it. There was a montage comparing it to some soccer goals which is good to lighten the mood at the start of a team meeting.”
That Monday review will not have produced much more laughter as the Ireland management analysed how France managed to slow so much of their team’s ruck ball and drag them into an attritional arm wrestle that blunted the visitors’ attacking potency.
“It was hard. The conditions certainly weren’t overly hectic,” Furlong said. “I thought we started both halves well and we got clean ball off the lineout and tempo in the ruck. I thought we created space, probably one area that we will have to improve on is that ruck and getting quick ball.
“We worked hard. There’s definitely areas of the game that we can improve on but to find ourselves in that position with two-odd minutes on the clock and find a way to win it was massively pleasing.
“When backs are against the wall the lads aren’t going to throw in the towel. They are going to work hard no matter how ominous the situation.
‘There is belief there, we have players of quality like Johnny who made the cross kick, Hendy (Iain Henderson) who took the restart and a lot of the carrying and rucking work that went into it. If we are in that position again, then we know we can get out of it.”
Improvements will be sought on home soil at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday and against an Italian side which despite some dogged resistance in Rome last Sunday could not prevent a final England flurry. Furlong and his team-mates will be confident their evolving attacking style under Schmidt can be displayed this weekend but there is no argument that while it was not in evidence on the opening day, the bottom line was that Ireland have a championship victory in the bank.
“It’s about winning. We could have played the best game of rugby or played really well and lost and that would have been gutting. When you look back you will say we won in France which is incredibly big, especially in Six Nations. There’s aspects of our game we want to improve on but a win in an historically hard place for teams to go is very pleasing.”
NatWest 6 Nations: Ireland v Italy
Saturday: Aviva Stadium, 2.15pm
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
TV: TV3, BBC
Bet: Ireland 1/100 Italy 50/1 Draw 100/1
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