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Sunday 4 December 2016

Brent Pope: This team has taken bravery to whole new level

An emotional Ian Madigan salutes the fans after victory over France in Cardiff yesterday
An emotional Ian Madigan salutes the fans after victory over France in Cardiff yesterday

This Irish team has confirmed - as has always been my opinion - that they are serious contenders to not only make a Rugby World Cup semi-final but win the whole competition.

Ireland, to a man, were simply magnificent against the French in Cardiff yesterday.

This was about team-work, not about individuals but about passion, spirit and pure guts. It was one of the greatest matches I have ever seen and will go down as one of the bravest wins under adversity that we have ever witnessed?

If Ireland were to win this game from where they were at halftime, namely missing two of their spiritual leaders in Jonny Sexton and Paul O Connell, it would have to be one of Irelands greatest perfromances.

READ MORE: Centre Robbie Henshaw leads Ireland's new generation

It would also show just how far Irish rugby has come in that they had replacements that could and would step up to the mark. What a win, what a week, first the Irish football team with a historic against-the-odds win over world champions Germany and now this.

It was an epic display, one of Irelands greatest ever performance, and one that will again reverberate around the world.

Forget about Japan against South Africa, forget about Wales against England - this was Ireland's day and how they deserved it, with a second-half performance that ranked with one of the best by any team at any World Cup.

The sight of one of Ireland's greatest leaders leaving the field on a stretcher was shocking, and one hoped that the Irish players would use the loss of their talismanic captain at halftime as inspiration to go on and win the game.

READ MORE: Five things we have learned from this victory

O'Connell could not have been prouder in the way his replacement Iain Henderson played. When Rob Kearney muscled over after a fantastic break by centre Robbie Henshaw, the second-half upset was suddenly very tangible, and Ireland never stopped coming, never stopped believing.

When Conor Murray touched the foot of the post to secure the win, Ireland had not only secured the match, they had minced France, an achievement made all the more special given the injury count.

Dominant

In fact, so dominant were Ireland that not one of the French players would have made it into a combined selection. Apart from the first quarter, France were always chasing the game and they started to panic way too early in the match, relying on individual brilliance rather than any sort of structure.

France could simply not get the ball back from Ireland for huge parts of the second spell, and were being forced to make tackle after tackle as wave upon wave of Ireland attackers threw everything they had at this game.

Ireland, on the other hand, were far better coached and drilled and were keeping the play sensibly close, retaining the ball, building phases and exposing France's perceived lack of fitness.

To be honest, France had very little to offer in the end. Their backs were pedestrian and lacked vision and had no appreciation of how to control the match let alone win it.

As the game went into the last 10 minutes it seemed to be the Irish that were starting to grow in confidence and with every mistake, the French were withdrawing further into their shell.

In the end, it was a case of not just sitting on a lead but building on it, something that Joe Schmidt has installed in this team.

It is hard to single out any one player, as all 23 played their part, but special mention must go to Ian Madigan.

The sight of a player who has played so long in Sexton's shadow crying showed what this win meant to him, and also to the magnificent Iain Henderson who again crashed and bashed all around the field.

Of the starters, Sean O'Brien was fantastic over the ball, orchestrating numerous turnovers, while Peter O Mahony in the first half was unbelievable.

But all the Irish players can be proud. Next week will be hard, but this is a team on a high and it will take a very good Puma side to deny them at least a semi-final berth.

I'm happy to say for this day I too was a proud Irishman. Proud to witness a team that left everything on the field for the pride of their green hearts.

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