Planet Rugby

Ireland crowned Six Nations champions

15th March 2014 18:54

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Ireland were crowned Six Nations champions on Saturday after beating France 22-20, giving Brian O'Driscoll the perfect send-off from Test rugby.

It wasn't pretty and France came mighty close to snatching victory at the end but for a forward pass, but Ireland won't care as they claimed their first title since 2009, a second for most of this squad.

O'Driscoll put in a full 80 minute performance against a rampaging Mathieu Bastareaud as two tries from Jonathan Sexton and one from Andrew Trimble ultimately got the better of the French.

Les Bleus will wonder, however, what might have been as Jean-Marc Doussain's missed penalty late on was another blunder on the hosts' part.

It was though to be Ireland's day as they held on for the title under Joe Schmidt, with O'Driscoll alongside Paul O'Connell with the silverware.

France began the game much-improved from last weekend's narrow win over Scotland as the return of Louis Picamoles and Bastareaud's power putting them on the front foot. The team's hunger and territorial dominance led to Maxime Machenaud kicking two penalties amid the early sparring at the Stade de France.

Those three-pointers - on minutes two and fourteen - put France 0-6 to the good as the game somewhat struggled to excite under Kiwi match referee Steve Walsh.

One reason why the contest was slow in tempo was due to scrum issues as official Walsh threatened to card loosehead prop Thomas Domingo but held off showing him yellow.

Ireland wouldn't have been concerned about the lack of a card though as they were now on top with a quarter played and found their reward following a lovely offload from Chris Henry. That pass from the Ulster flanker saw Sexton go over for the opener in successive weeks.

However, as became a worry in the first-half, Sexton missed the conversion and then just before the break a relatively simple penalty attempt as he looked uneasy in front of goal.

So les Bleus were still leading 5-6 at that point but five minutes later it would be Ireland hitting the front, with the French ruck defence non-existent. The score arrived from an initial carry up the middle from O'Driscoll before Conor Murray attacked the fringe and then found Trimble for the try. This time Sexton was on target to give Ireland a six-point advantage.

Ireland could smell blood and many expected them to go for the jugular as the French looked disorganised. However, a moment of class from fly-half Remi Tálčs saw him kick across to Yoann Huget on the sideline who fed Brice Dulin for the try with a lovely tap-down.

The excellent conversion from Racing Metro number nine Machenaud - making it 12-13 - would later sum up the difference between the teams at the break - place-kicking.

Tálčs smartly looked to extend the lead when near the Irish 22 but his drop-goal attempt on 36 minutes was wayward before France's woes at scrum-time would be compounded by the loss to injury of Nicolas Mas. It appeared the tighthead prop hyper-extended his arm.

France though were heading into half-time leading but arguably shouldn't have been when Domingo was penalised for side entry. Coach Philippe Saint-Andre's reaction to his prop's indiscretion illustrated his and the crowd's frustration. Luckily for the hosts, Sexton missed.

Ireland had 40 minutes to save the Championship, which seemed likely when a break-out sparked by Rob Kearney led to Trimble running down the right before handing O'Driscoll a possible crossing. The centre was hauled down just five metres short however, but the recycled ball saw Sexton hit a fine line off Murray. The conversion scraped over for 19-13.

Sexton would, fortunately for Ireland, re-find his kicking boots five minutes later when he sent over another three points that gave the visitors much-needed daylight on the night.

But then came a real moment of controversy as hooker Szarzewski grounded against the post, with Walsh seeing it as a certain try. However, the replay showed the front-row forward dropped the ball in the act. There was no doubt about Machenaud's conversion though.

France were now back within touching distance as changes were made on both sides, one being Machenaud surprisingly replaced by Doussain at the base. And unfortunately for Saint-Andre that decision backfired as Doussain missed a penalty won by his side's scrum set-piece before a forward pass from Pascal Pape foiled a late try for Damien Chouly.

Ireland subsequently held on and with it came the spoils.

Man of the match: The official award went to Brian O'Driscoll on his farewell game and we won't argue with that. Back-to-back gongs for the veteran centre, who says goodbye in style.

Moment of the match: France had the title in reach when Jean-Marc Doussain lined up a penalty with time running out. He missed and thus came the feeling this was Ireland's day.

Villain of the match: Nothing malicious to report.

The scorers:

For France:
Tries: Dulin, Szarzewski
Con: Machenaud 2
Pen: Machenaud 2

For Ireland:
Tries: Sexton 2, Trimble
Con: Sexton 2
Pen: Sexton

France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Gaël Fickou, 11 Maxime Médard, 10 Remi Tálčs, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Louis Picamoles, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Alexandre Flanquart, 20 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 21 Wenceslas Lauret, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Maxime Mermoz.

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (c), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Fergus McFadden.

Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)

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