Ireland off to cracking start

Ireland delivered a brave and impressive performance in their 30-21 victory over France at Croke Park.

This wasn’t one for the purists, but thoroughly entertaining it certainly was. Neither team managed to assert themselves on the contest, with little structure, regular lateral attacks, messy set piece work and a number of poorly executed tactical nudges marring play. In addition, defensively both sides were poor. But all these shortcomings will surely improve as the tournament progresses. Today was about the result.

There were, however, moments of brilliance, particularly from France, who enthralled with a number of breaks from deep in their own territory. One such break culminated in the match’s first try. It started from a lineout on their own 10m line and swept right, then left, through a number of hands before France eighthman Imanol Harinordoquy – who was immense throughout the Test – scored in the corner. Lionel Beauxis added the extras to give France a 7-3 lead, Ronan O’Gara having kicked an earlier penalty.

The Ireland flyhalf drew his side to within one point with his second three pointer of the match, before the hosts showed that they wouldn’t be undone in the expansive rugby stakes. They built up through a number of phases then spun the ball wide to No 8 Jamie Heaslip, who broke the line and cracked on the nitros to blitz the defence and score. O’Gara made no mistake with the conversion, and even though Beauxis sunk a drop goal (13-10), Ireland would have felt the more confident trotting down the tunnel.

They stretched their lead just after the break, with Brian O’Driscoll showing every bit of his class to slice through the France defence and step the covering defender en route to the tryline. Again O’Gara converted and at 20-10, Ireland were in control of the Test.

That changed when Beauxis, who was responsible for missing the tackle on O’Driscoll in the build up to his try, redeemed himself with a superbly weighted kick that bounced favourably for winger Maxime Medard, who collected and scored in the corner. The angle proved too difficult for Beauxis to convert from, but the pivot slid into the pocket in the subsequent passage of play and landed his second drop goal.

Defence dominated the next 20 minutes until Ireland broke open the contest through Gordon D’Arcy. They smashed up through numerous phases, depleting the tiring France defensive line, before spinning the ball to the centre, who jinked and corkscrewed his way through two tackles for a decisive converted score.

Eleven points the difference with 12 minutes remaining. Ireland needed to play for territory, defend resolutely and remain disciplined. They achieved two if those goals, but conceded a penalty in their 22m , which Beauxis slotted. They, however, made amends 30 seconds later, contesting aggressively at a ruck in the France 22m and earning a penalty which O’Gara duly scored. With just two minutes remaining, that score sealed the result for Ireland, who on the balance of play deserved the victory – their first in seven attempts against France.

Ireland - Tries: Jamie Heaslip, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy. Conversions: Ronan O’Gara (3). Penalties: Ronan O’Gara (3)

France - Tries: Imanol Harinordoquy, Maxime Medard. Conversions: Lionel Beauxis. Penalty: Beauxis. Drop goals: Beauxis (2)

By Ryan Vrede