One look out of his hotel room window at the slate grey Parisian sky was enough to tell Tommy O’Donnell and his fellow Ireland forwards they were in for a battle of attrition with France on Saturday.
What flanker O’Donnell could not have foreseen was that he would be forced into the action quite so early in the affair at Stade de France.
Losing the number seven jersey to a fit-again Sean O’Brien despite impressing for 50 minutes against Wales in the opening weekend had been harsh if somewhat inevitable but the Tullow Tank’s tracks came off with a hamstring tear after just 20 minutes in the French capital and O’Donnell was ready to make up for lost time.
The Munster openside certainly made the most of his hour’s work at the coalface, making a match-leading 20 tackles.
“I think with the conditions, the ruck was huge so I just came on with the focus to clear around the ruck,” O’Donnell said. “The tackles when we didn’t have the ball were going to be huge. Other than that I was just going to focus. My preparation had gone well and I just wanted to play the game I usually play.
“When we woke up this morning and saw the weather, we had to be prepared for that.
“When it’s wet you have to be prepared to bear up. We did that but if we were a little bit more accurate we would have come out the right side of that.” Alas it was all in vain as France edged home 10-9 with a 70th-minute converted try wiping out Ireland’s 9-3 half-time lead before the home pack continued its dominance to cannily run down the clock and extinguish any hope of a late Irish rally.
It was hard to take.
“I’ll have to think back to some under-14 game when my heart got ripped out but that’s definitely tough. It’s one we could have won, should have won. It hurts.
“The rain didn’t let up and the ground was fairly wet. I think we need to be a little bit smarter and tuck the ball under the jumper a bit more.
“That’s the confidence in this team that we should have been able to expose sides and play expansive rugby.
“I think we have to be smarter. Be a bit cuter with our possession, definitely more accurate with our possession, turning good field position into scores, keeping the scoreboard ticking over and taking that little glimmer of hope away from teams.”
Ireland’s hopes of retaining the title they have won for two years in a row are now hanging by a thread but there is still work for Ireland to do as O’Donnell and Ireland travel to Twickenham in 12 days with the flanker in line to hold his starting place in O’Brien’s likely absence.
“We definitely have to give our all in the next three games and see how it goes.
“We’re depending on results but you never know how the cards are going to fall.
“Let those tired bodies recover, get back into camp and take it from there.”
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