Six Nations 2014: Three talking points as Ireland win title in Paris
Six Nations 2014: Trevor Murray reflects on three talking points from Ireland's victory over France
BOD gets his fairytale ending
Heading in to Saturday evening’s crunch match at the Stade de France, it seemed as though the palpable excitement and tension would play a huge part. The question lingered as to whether or not Ireland could use all the externalities and hype surrounding the tie to their advantage. If they could, it was set to be a hugely historic and memorable day. But if they crumpled under the pressure, it could have been a day that would be difficult to forget for all the wrong reasons. In the end, the Irish emerged triumphant on a score-line of 22-20. After all the build-up and the preparation that had been put in to the match, it seemed only fitting that the championship would go right to the wire as Ireland held out against a last-gasp French attack. Although Brian O’ Driscoll didn’t get his name on the scoresheet and although he didn’t manage to repeat the heroics of his hat-trick all those years ago in Paris, it was as dramatic and amazing a finale as the 35-year-old rugby star has ever experienced. At one stage in the second period, it looked as though O’ Driscoll was about to break through the French cover as Ireland broke for their line, but he was stopped in his tracks – all the same he’ll be glad his burst forward played a pivotal role in their third try. After 15 years and 141 international tests in the game, the Leinster player can rest easy in the fact he leaves a great legacy behind him and that he leaves the fans and even the neutrals plenty of memories to cherish and reflect back on – none less important and iconic than Saturday’s championship clinching victory away from home.
Ireland pull spirit of 2009 out of the bag
Huge credit must go to Phillipe Saint-Andre’s charges in their herculean efforts to gatecrash Ireland’s party. At no stage did the home crowd lose hope that their side could worm their way back into contention. And, even though it was never on that les Bleus would storm to an insurmountable lead in an effort to outdo England’s points tally, that didn’t stop them from continuing unabated to spoil O’Driscoll’s last match in an Ireland jersey. Brice Dulin’s 31st-minute try to put France’s nose marginally in front by one point typified their spirit and showed that les Tricolores were sleeping giants awakened – not to mention Dimitri Szarzewski’s dubious try against the posts after a great surge by Mathieu Bastareaud. And with home voices fully behind their team, the French were on the front from the get-go, doing all they could to upset Ireland’s game plan. However, what France could do, Ireland could do better. Jonny Sexton’s 53rd-minute penalty to extend Ireland’s lead to nine points underlined just how resilient the men in green could be. And when all energy looked as though it had been spent, they still kept going, willed on by the memories of their 2009 Grand Slam, no doubt, as well as the promise of impending glory. Joe Schmidt’s men were deserving of their win, although they had to work mightily hard for every inch of space thanks to a fearsome French foe.
Sexton plays his part
At times, Sexton looked fazed by the fixture. Missed kicks on more than one occasion had many a fan scratching their head and furrowing their brow. In truth, it was a case of the fly-half popping up in the most unlikely of places to help his team-mates to a huge win. Scoring two tries throughout the 80 nail-biting minutes, the Racing Metro player had the measure of France’s back-line, but when it came to his usually reliable kicking game, his dip in form was a frustrating mystery. Miscued conversions and inaccurate penalties put Paul O’ Connell and company under a serious amount of pressure. In particular, a key penalty chance right before the half-time break saw Sexton fire his kick wide of the mark, much to the delight of the hosts. Nonetheless, their spirit shone through. And although, some might question his mentality on the big occasion in the aftermath, for now, fans will just be happy he made amends with his tries as Ireland ran out victors.