Ireland on the brink

22nd Sep 2007, 10:53


Vincent Clerc: Chasing Ireland down

Vincent Clerc: Chasing Ireland down

France sent Ireland's high hopes of World Cup quarter-final qualification into freefall on Friday, beating the men in green 25-3 in Paris.

France sent Ireland's high hopes of World Cup quarter-final qualification into freefall on Friday, beating the men in green 25-3 and leaving them needing a huge win over Argentina.

It was France, France all the way. The glory was all theirs - much to the relief of the anxious nation. In the end they deserved their margin of victory and maybe more. They also seem assured of making the quarter-final, " a chance to play a little more in the competition", as captain Raphaël Ibañez said afterwards.

Except for some moments in the first half and a brief bit of battering at the French line, Ireland did not look like scoring anything worthwhile. Even when they battered the French looked too organised and too strong for them. The Maginot Line did not save France in World War II but there were no chinks in the French defence at Stade de France and no way round it either. On defence they were superb.

That said, the Irish defence in the face of an onslaught was also superb, breached only by a genius of a kick by Frédéric Michalak and a slightly lucky chip by Jean-Baptiste Elissalde which a mixture of bungling by the Irish and excellent work by Vincent Clerc made into France's second try.

For one thing Ireland could not really cope in first phases. France had 21 throws into line-outs and did not lose one, a skew throw apart. Ireland had 20 throws into line-outs and lost five. It was not just the winning either. French ball was so much handier.

France had the better of the scrums, especially when Paul O'Connell was in the sin-bin for "persistent offending in the maul".

In fact Ireland paid dearly for ill-discipline. The final penalty count was 14-11 in France's favour but four of those Irish penalties came near the end, when the battle was well and truly lost. Elissalde turned five of those penalties into 15 points. France led 15-3 before scoring their two tries. Six of those 14 penalties were at the tackle/ruck to two conceded by France. After the match both captain Brian O'Driscoll and coach Eddie O'Sullivan admitted that ill-discipline had cost the side dearly.

French selection helped. This time they had the luxury of a full-back at full-back, a left wing on the left wing, an outside centre at outside centre, a recognised goal-kicker and a clever scrum-half.

Ireland started well enough. There was lots of kicking initially but, despite an early penalty by Elissalde, Ireland were on top. They could have levelled the score but Ronan O'Gara missed a penalty he would normally be expected to goal.

There had been a lot of pressure on O'Gara from rumours and innuendo, apparently about his gambling debts, in the French press. It was the sort of thing which could have been expected to draw the Irish together and motivate them, and the obvious emotion of the singing of Ireland's Call seemed to suggest that there was a fierce desire for victory. The French sang the Marseillaise in far more relaxed fashion. But in the match it was the French who were filled with passionate intensity.

O'Gara did not have a great game and as the organiser of the Irish side was insignificant in comparison with Elissalde, who was the French conductor on the Paris evening.

Ireland must have hoped that at last the centre pairing of Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy, so often lauded as the best in the world, would at last catch alight. It did not. Eventually the Irish were reduced to running out of deep defence, but to no avail as the Maginot Line moved up into Irish territory.

France looked like scoring the first try in the first quarter of the game. Marcus Horan knocked on and flung a foot at the fallen ball as the Irish ran down their right. Cédric Heymans snapped up the ball and strode away. Raphaël Ibañez carried it on and then the French went wide right but the television match official confirmed that Clément Poitrenaud had been tackled out at the corner by Shane Horgan. But two penalties in four minutes took the French to 9-0 after 21 minutes.

Still the electric atmosphere in the great ground, packed with 80 000 spectators, persisted. Athenry sounded, bands played and the award of a scrum was greeted with cheers or cheers.

France attacked with two five-metre line-outs in a row but Ibañez broke away and held on and they were penalised.

Eventually Ireland got on the scoreboard when O'Gara kicked a soaring drop when the referee was playing advantage. 9-3 after 36 minutes.

France had time to batter at the Irish line and Elissalde popped over an easy penalty to make the score 12-3 at the break.

Ireland had a good few moments in the second half when for the first - and only - time in the match new scrum-half Eoin Reddan broke. Ireland set up a great attack but eventually their hands let them down.

When Frankie Sheahan was penalised for lifting a leg in a maul, Elissalde moved the score to 15-3 after 54 minutes.

The try was a set move. France had an innocuous scrum not far inside the Irish half. on the French right. They looked to move left when suddenly, from behind the breaking scrum Vincent Clerc started running. Michalak then kicked a kick of great brilliance - deliberately off the side of his right boot, lobbing a perfect ball back into the empty box behind the scrum where Clerc raced onto a benign bounce to score the first try of the match.

It was a delicious moment.

The second try came when O'Connell was sitting in the sin bin. This time Elissalde went right and chipped. The Irish defenders should have got the ball. Instead Clerc helped himself to it, just in from touch and near the corner flag. Standing still he managed to resist the attentions of three defenders as he swirled and plunged over for a try in the corner.

There were 12 minutes to play and the Irish managed to mount an attack after four penalties in quick succession. The last two were against Damien Traille for stopping the Irish within 10 metres of a penalty. For this persistence Traille also trudged off to the sin bin.

Man of the Match: There were lots of French candidates but none did as much to secure the winning as Jean-Baptiste Elissalde who was the general and the maker of winning points.

Moment of the Match: The making and the scoring of the first try by Vincent Clerc.

Villain of the Match: There were candidates here, too. There were the sin-binners Paul O'Connell and Damien Traille, and also those who conceded penalties for putting feet on prone bodies - David Wallace of Ireland and Raphaël Ibañez of France. But there was nothing untoward in a match excellently controlled.

The scorers:

For France:
Clerc 2
Pens: Elissalde 5

For Ireland:
Drop goal:

Yellow cards: O'Connell (64, Ireland, persistent infringement), Traille (75, France, persistent infringement)

France: 15 Clément Poitrenaud, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 David