Pool D was emphatically put to bed this afternoon when an inspired Ireland second half performance put France to the sword at the amphitheater of the Millennium Stadium. This victory will go down as one of the best performances produced by an Irish representative side in the history of rugby. The backdrop facing Ireland management and players at half-time was quite stark. Their two inspirational leaders on the pitch were out of the game due to injuries. Johnny Sexton was the first to depart, plagued with an abductor problem early doors was then compounded by a textbook bone crushing tackle from Picamoles after twenty-five minutes. Paul O’Connell led the team from the front imperiously in the first half and it was more selfness work from the Limerick man at the ruck which forced his early exit. The clear out from Fofana was fair but the hamstring went one way and the leg the other, it was a horror injury on the replays. If this is the last we see of Paul O’Connell in an Ireland jersey, the phrase in play which led to his exit spoke volumes; like a warrior in the middle of the ruck competing against at least four French players giving as good as he got. Legendary career in the green jersey.
France started the game in abrasive mood, attempting to out muscle Ireland in close quarter exchanges. Ireland to their credit held firm and the expected onslaught from Bastareaud were materialized helped in no small part to Henshaw and O’Brien stopping the colossal three quarter repeatedly on the game line. With France’s primary ball carrier threat nullified, Ireland set to work on the France set piece starting with the lineout. Ireland asked Guirado to throw to his second and third lineout pods and he failed. Devin Toner, Ian Henderson and Peter O’Mahoney consistently disrupted French set piece ball to such an extent that Le Bleu were working on scraps, slow ball for Michalak to work with and Saint Andre had no answers to stem the tide. Once the lineout misfired, suddenly the scrum started to go backwards. Nathan White (kudos where it is due) and Jack McGrath then reveled in the scrum caused by French front row now starting to feel pace of the game. France’s pack was well beaten at the end of this contest. L’Equipe will have a field day on this display but credit Ireland for exposing the flaws of France in the set piece and also the breakdown where O’Brien, O’Mahoney, Henry and Heaslip all nullified France ball and won their individual battles with a bit to spare.
The Leinster man was dropped into the deep end and he produced in spades. Madigan played with such a flat line, it posed France endless problems on who to pick up defensively. The Tommy Bowe run was superbly executed and raised doubts for France in terms of inside out defense. Madigan’s penalty kicking was excellent and his kicking distance with ball in hand ultimately gave Ireland a platform to build on in the second half. The emotion shown by Madigan at full-time spoke volumes; he delivered at the highest level and is a game which will define his rugby career going forward. A performance full of endeavor and high skill. Sexton’s departure was nullified today. A massive complement to Madigan.
The Ireland team had several heroes. The front row was competent throughout. Rory Best was my man of the match for his all action performance. His lineout delivery was on point throughout but it was his contribution in open play which caught the eye, several key turnovers at the breakdown and his link up of play with Ireland backs was exceptional. Best is getting better with every game. The second row had an excellent display. Henderson and Toner in the second half gave leadership; decided to challenge the French line out and carried endless ball. The back row’s role in this game has being well documented. Conor Murray – how cool was the Munster man for the second try? To touch down at the post was a clever move and totally deceived France on the try line. Robbie Henshaw has arrived on the world stage. His defensive work was on point but it was ball carrying when provided with go forward ball that caught the eye. He exposed Bastareaud defensively with several lung bursting runs which gave Ireland splendid attacking platforms. Keith Earls did not let the side down, he will be disappointed with his knock on from Tommy Bowe’s excellent run but his tackle count and defense could not be criticized. The back three of Rob / Dave Kearney and Tommy Bowe was on point throughout. Bowe and Kearney looking for ball and won several aerial exchanges. This was as complete a team performance from Ireland. France had no answer.
Sean O’Brien will inevitably make an appearance with the IRB disciplinary panel for the punch on Pascal Pape. The punch surprisingly was not caught by either Nigel Owens or TMO. It will be interesting to see how Ireland state their case to the disciplinary board, hoping for a one week ban.
Le Bleu have their backs against the wall. A quarter final showdown with New Zealand next weekend awaits. The French media will slaughter the players more so than management. Saint Andre has being the butt of many jokes during his tenure and I think the French media will focus more on the players this time. Michalak set the tone with a thoroughly unconvincing opening penalty kick. France will rue their early missed penalties to setup the platform to win this contest. Ireland were let back into the contest after twenty minutes and they did not look back. The pack were well beaten, something that the French pride themselves in. The set piece at times was shambolic. Guirado at hooker failed to deliver quality lineout throws and his props were on the back foot throughout. The surprise was how Mas and Debaty went backwards in the scrum late on. Numerous issues for France to address. Parra or Tillous-Borde? Intriguing selection poser at half-back as Michalak had one of those enigma performances. New Zealand will be wary, expect a French backlash next weekend. Saint Andre is gone but several players could join them in that category if they do not beat New Zealand.
Fantastic result. Leadership in spades but this result has come at a cost. O’Connell and O’Brien are as good as out next weekend against a dangerous Argentina outfit. The positives were that several players took the leadership mantle on when Sexton and O’Connell departed the field. Schmidt’s coaching is exceptional, the team executed the plan to the letter of the law. A repeat performance and Ireland will be in good position to beat Argentina but it won’t be easy. Savior the victory, lip the wounds and come again next weekend all guns blazing. What a day. Ireland fans and players were immense. Proud day for the Emerald Isle.