Tuesday 21 November 2017

Ireland braced for new frontier

Tries by Kearney and Murray pave the way against fancied French

Jonathan Sexton, accompanied by Ireland doctor Eanna Falvey, leaves the pitch during the World Cup Pool D match against France in the Millennium Stadium
Jonathan Sexton, accompanied by Ireland doctor Eanna Falvey, leaves the pitch during the World Cup Pool D match against France in the Millennium Stadium
Paul O’Connell is taken from the pitch on a stretcher during the World Cup Pool D match against France in the Millennium Stadium

The day of reckoning finally arrived. Ireland had to break with history to make history. They had met France three times in the World Cup and three times they had suffered their wrath.

They would have to do it at a home away from home, a citadel where Munster shed their label of nearly men in 2006 and 2008, where Ronan O'Gara's drop goal grabbed the Grand Slam in 2009 and where Leinster made the miracle comeback against Northampton in 2011.

Ireland tore up the World Cup script to confirm the form of the Six Nations in putting France into a vice-like grip they never released.

The rendition of Ireland's Call reverberated around The Millennium, sending a shiver of expectation right down the spine of anyone with one.

The fireworks ignited. Peter O'Mahony gave Sebastian Tillous-Borde the rag doll treatment. Paul O'Connell scrambled through Eddy Ben Arous. But Tommy Bowe's side entry was needless.

France went for territory and the maul. O'Mahony and Devin Toner killed it for a turnover. Ireland were rock solid in the scrum.

Thierry Dusautoir's muscularity tempted Toner into a guilty act. Freddie Michalak screwed his kick right.

The French went to the pick-and-drive, teased out the offloads, requiring Tommy Bowe to melt Wesley Fofana into touch.

Referee Nigel Owens blamed Cian Healy for dropping a scrum. Scott Spedding found the upright.

Toner latched onto a loose lineout. Jonathan Sexton chipped delicately. Mathieu Bastareaud played the ball from an offside position. Sexton struck for 3-0 in the 13th minute.

Michalak wriggled free of Mike Ross. Conor Murray pounced to regain possession. Dusautoir clutched at another turnover. Spedding levelled it from halfway in the 16th minute.

The Irish got into something of a rhythm from their lineout to draw a penalty. Sexton obliged from the right at the end of the first quarter.

They came hunting for more, literally, the French just about handling the rush of Dave Kearney, Keith Earls and Toner. O'Mahony's high tackle on Guilhem Guirado handed Spedding the chance to boot the equaliser.

The bodies dropped as often as the ball from the force of contact. It took Sean O'Brien's timing into the tackle to defuse a movement.

Sexton was withdrawn after a legal hit by Louis Picamoles for Ian Madigan to have his say.

Lock Pascal Pape took out Tommy Bowe without the ball. Madigan made hay from the left for 9-6 in the 29th minute.

Bowe was obstructed by Brice Dulin in his chase for Murray's steepling kick. It was Ireland's first real threat. The lineout unravelled.

Immediately, Bowe came charging through the middle from Henshaw's beautiful inside ball. Earls dropped a golden chance in a game of very few.

It was pulsating. The French destabilised an Irish scrum. They came hard and straight. Best was immaculate on the poach.

Madigan's sliding ball on the floor was too much for Spedding. It came to nothing.

His next ball out on the full invited the French on. In the last play, O'Connell was left lying on the pitch with his World Cup in tatters.

The Irish rebooted and restarted, without Sexton and O'Connell, by manipulating the ball until O'Brien fumbled Earls swift pass.

For the second time, Toner was in wrongly at a ruck. Henderson stole a lineout. Ireland were in business. Healy lost the ball forward.

Heaslip countered a ruck. Madigan hesitated. Fofana almost picked him off.

Henshaw shot through like a bullet. Bowe and Rob Kearney were cool. A knock-on came from Noa Nakataici.

The Irish scrum was sound. There was patience. Rob Kearney smashed around Michalak for the 14th try for his country, Madigan pulling the conversion for 14-6 in the 50th minute.

There was pandemonium in the stadium. Bowe was unbelievable in the air. Dusautoir lost the ball. Earls thundered beyond the gain line. Henderson just lost control.

O'Mahony was next to leave the stage. Henderson thieved another lineout.

It mattered little. O'Brien was caught not releasing. Spedding rifled into the 22. This time O'Brien picked Bastareaud's pocket.

It was relentless. Madigan's chip was taken by Henshaw. Heaslip was clamped by hooker Benjamin Kayser.

O'Brien was spotted on the wrong side and Morgan Parra nailed three to make it 14-9 in the 64th minute.

Jack McGrath took Parra too high. France were moving. O'Brien somehow forced a knock-on from Parra.

Henderson destroyed a French maul. Madigan kicked Ireland into the 22.

O'Brien was jet-propelled, Toner followed up and Best came close. Murray touched the base of the post for the game-breaker. Madigan's extras made it 21-9 in the 72nd minute.

The scrum powered on for a penalty. Madigan stood up and wh acked the insurance points before dissolving into a flood of tears.

He wasn't the only one.

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