Six Nations 2014: Ireland win championship after Paris thriller
Six Nations 2014: Ireland are crowned champions after a thrilling victory over France in Paris
Brian O’Driscoll signed off his glittering international career with a second Six Nations crown after Ireland held on to edge out France 22-20 in a thriller in the Stade de France.
For only the second time in 42 years, and in the same ground that saw the Ireland centre burst onto the scene with a hat-trick 14 years go, the men in green emerged from France with victory but they had to earn it the hard way.
Jonathan Sexton scored two tries for Joe Schmidt’s men while Andrew Trimble also got on the scoresheet but France refused to buckle and after Brice Dulin’s first-half try a Dimitri Szarzewski effort in the second period closed the gap to only two points.
Damien Chouly was convinced he had won it for France late on but the final pass was ruled forward and gutsy Irish defence, with O’Driscoll to the fore, proved enough in the end.
France came roaring out of the blocks and had a penalty inside 50 seconds after Chris Henry was penalised at the breakdown, Maxime Machenaud making no mistake with the penalty for a 3-0 lead.
Les Bleus clearly had a point to prove in the opening exchanges and a fantastic run from Mathieu Bastareaud saw the French centre shrug off both Gordon D’Arcy and O’Driscoll and carry deep into Irish territory.
A forward pass ended that attack but it was still the hosts in the ascendancy and Machenaud added his second penalty with a quarter of an hour gone after Dave Kearney held on in the tackle.
Ireland badly needed a boost and their pack were providing it, winning numerous penalties at scrum time as France loosehead Thomas Domingo invoked the ire of referee Steve Walsh.
And it was from another scrum penalty that Ireland grabbed a foothold in the match, the pack rumbling off the to the tryline from a lineout before Sexton barged over after a fine offload out of the tackle from Henry.
The fly-half missed with the straightforward conversion however meaning France stayed 6-5 ahead.
That one-point lead did not last long through as the men in green grabbed their second try before the half-hour mark.
A fine O’Driscoll carry up the middle took Ireland into the France 22 before a sniping break around the edge of the ruck took Conor Murray clear and he drew the last man before putting in Trimble for his second try of this year’s RBS 6 Nations.
Sexton made no mistake with the extras from bang in front this time and Ireland led 12-6 but France responded well.
Remi Tales – making his first Six Nations start – kicked to touch for Les Bleus and the rolling maul took them up to the edge of the tryline.
And with Walsh playing advantage for Irish offside, Tales’ kick to the corner was batted back by Yoann Huget to find the onrushing Dulin to touch down in the corner.
Machenaud’s impressive kicking continued as the conversion sailed over and France were back in front at 13-12 and that was how it stayed until the interval, although Ireland should have gone back in front but for another misfire from Sexton from the kicking tee on the stroke of half-time.
The opening exchanges of the second half saw the game really start to open up but while Sexton’s goalkicking was struggling, he carried a real threat with ball in hand for the men in green.
And it was his second try that put the visitors to the Stade de France back in front, a fine break from Trimble freeing O’Driscoll who was dragged down a metre short of the line.
But when the ball was spread left Sexton again picked a fine line to dance under the posts untouched.
A conversion and then a subsequent penalty from Sexton stretched the lead out to 22-13 and finally it looked like Ireland might have broken the French resistance.
But as the hour mark approached that trademark French flair brought the hosts back into the game, wonderful feet from Huget bewitching O’Driscoll and setting up a counter attack.
But if it was flair that laid the platform then it was good old brute force that claimed the score, wave after wave of French forward throwing themselves at the try line before finally Walsh adjudged Szarzewski to have grounded the ball at the base of the post despite Irish protestations and what looked like a knock on from the hooker on the replay.
With Machenaud’s simple conversion on target Ireland were still ahead but only by two points at 22-20 with the game perfectly balanced entering the final quarter of an hour.
Sexton then appeared to be knocked out in a collision with Bastareaud giving both sides a chance to catch their breath and, with Ian Madigan on at fly-half for his injured teammate, it was France who looked the stronger in the closing stages.
With replacements on in the front row it was France now in the ascendancy but with ten minutes remaining Jean-Marc Doussain, on for Machenaud, missed with a penalty his pack had won for him and Ireland were still ahead.
Still the French kept coming and with the clock winding down it looked like Chouly had won it, the No.8 diving over in the corner but Walsh referred to the TMO and the final pass from Pascal Pape was ruled foward, much to every Irishman’s delight.