Throughout the eighty minutes of any rugby match there are a number of psychological battles, the side which conquers these ultimately comes out on top. Ireland failed to put any points on the board in the opening 20 minutes of today’s Six Nations clash with France despite dominating proceedings. After Rob Kearney collected his own high ball the visitors were camped on the French line but couldn’t break the blue rearguard which stood firm phase after phase. Shortly after, Darcy’s majestic run and chip didn’t get the bounce it deserved and Ireland were again only inches away from the frist try.
In their first meaningful foray into Irish territory France earned themselves an easy three points and a man advantage as Cian Healy’s petulance got the better of him, unnecessarily taking the man without the ball. The hosts upped the tempo and started to find gaps in the Irish defence. After a series of sloppy scrums on the Irish line Servat burrowed his way over from close range. Ireland had played most of the rugby up to this point but now trailed 10-0 with a man in the bin and the Stade in full voice, psychologically it was much more than a ten point lead.
Lievremont’s men must be commended for their ability to control the pace of the game. After allowing O’Gara’s boot determine play for 20 minutes the French increased the intensity and took the ball into contact with ferocious power, inspired by the likes of Harinordoquy and Bastareaud. Sensing blood they went for the jugular and quick, clean ball presented Jauzion with a golden opportunity which the veteran was never going to miss. Right on half-time Ireland enjoyed another spell of possession on the home line but couldn’t make the breakthrough and the inevitable handling error saw France into the break with a 17-3 lead. Realistically, the game was all but over.
The miraculous opening to the second half which Ireland craved deserted them, in fact things got progressively worse, and when Poitrenaud dove over after Bastareaud’s deft pass it was no more than they deserved. Ireland did manage to touch down, with the aid of some dubiously flat passing, Wallace linking well with O’Driscoll, but it was scant consolation for a side with genuine grand slam ambitions.
Kidney and his team have to hold their hands up, they were outplayed all over the park. France were far more physical, hungrier and less predictable than their Irish counterparts. Ireland never came to grips with the flat defence, O’Gara’s one attempted grubber almost cost his team five points. Conversely when Ireland came up in a line Trinh-Duc put in a delicate chip which almost had Malzieu in for a score. The game plan worked for 20 minutes as the visitors controlled territory, enjoyed more possession and gave France little time or space to show their flare. When les blues did burst into life though, the men in green couldn’t adapt, despite admirable displays by Darcy, Heaslip and Bowe. As good as the French defence was, it was aided in no small part by atrocious handling by Ireland who were masters of thier own downfall in this regard, constantly spilling the ball at the first sight of momentum.