Ireland knew exactly what was needed this evening following England’s defeat of Italy by 52-11 in Rome in the RBS 6 Nations title this morning, forcing Ireland to either beat France or miss out on their 2014 Grand Slam title.
This evening however Ireland held on with gritted determination in a truly nail-biting finish, to narrowly beat France 22-20. This was Ireland’s first Six Nations Cup win since 2009, granting retiring player Brian O’Driscoll the perfect send off, in this his final test wearing an Irish green jersey. Their victory today was only Ireland’s second in the French Capital in 42 years.
France, despite their somewhat indifferent campaign this year to-date, came into the game with true determination. Early tough momentum and Maxime Machenaud landing two penalties, following infringements by Chris Henry and Dave Kearney, gave the French an early six-point lead.
France’s lead was to be short lived however as Ireland’s superior disciplined attacking organisation opened up just enough room for Sexton to make Ireland’s first contribution, brushing past Bastareaud to cross the line for the first Irish try of the game, but failing to convert his own score. France now stood 6-5 on the scoreboard.
Next Conor Murray manages to feed Andrew Trimble, who raced in for Ireland’s second try with Sexton making no mistake with the conversion and raising Ireland’s score to 12 against France’s 6. A cross-field kick by Tales, just five metres from the Irish line saw Yohan Huget rise above Dave Kearney, knocking the ball inward towards Brice Dulin, latter who made no mistake collecting and scoring, thus leading France into the interval with 13-12 ahead of Ireland, Machenaud having landed the conversion.
After withstanding early pressure from France in the second half, Dave Kearney grabbed a spilled ball which in time reached Sexton who found the gap to cross the French line untouched for his second try of the match and again making the conversion.
A further penalty from a ruck allowed Sexton to add 3 points making it 22-13; however Ireland was soon to lose Sexton with a little more than 10 minutes to play, when he was injured by the right elbow of a Bastareaud, as he attempted a break.
Dimitri Szarzewsi would now reward France’s continued tough momentum with a controversial try, latter which referee Steve Walsh declined to ask the TMO for an opinion. Scoreboard read Ireland 22 – France 20.
With just over one minute remaining, Ireland’s heart sank when the French No. 8 Damien Chouly scored in the right hand corner. But this try was checked by the TMO and found to be ‘clear and obvious,’ identifying a forward pass from the hands of French Captain Pascal Pape and was quickly disallowed.
Final score Ireland 22 – France 20, thus securing only Irelands second title in 29 years, but nevertheless a truly outstanding performance and completing a perfect finale to Brian O’Driscoll’s truly marvellous career in Irish Rugby.