Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Ireland are Six Nations champions after thrilling victory over France

France 20-22 Ireland

Brian O'Driscoll with supporters as the Ireland team arrive at Dublin Airport, Ireland. Pic Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Brian O'Driscoll with supporters as the Ireland team arrive at Dublin Airport, Ireland. Pic Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Cian Healy lifts the 6 nations trophy as the Ireland team arrive at Dublin Airport, Ireland.
Jonathan Sexton poses with supporters as the Ireland team arrive at Dublin Airport, Ireland. .
Brian O'Driscoll poses for a selfie with Jack and Megan O'Donnell, from Co. Meath, as the Ireland team arrive at Dublin Airport, Ireland
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell lifts the trophy while head coach Joe Schmidt (left) looks on as the Ireland team arrive at Dublin Airport, Ireland. Pic Brian Lawless
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell lifts the trophy while head coach Joe Schmidt (left) looks on as the Ireland team arrive at Dublin Airport, Ireland. Pic Brian Lawless
Ireland's Paul O'Connell lifts the 6 Nations trophy after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll (left) celebrates with team mate Fergus McFadden on the final whistle after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland and Dean Kearney of Ireland celebrate with the trophy after winning the six nations championship with a 22-20 victory over France during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll and Dave Kearney (left) celebrate after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll afterthe Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Ireland celebrate winning the Six Nations at the Stade de France, Paris, France
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll and Dave Kearney (left) celebrate after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll celebrates after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll and Dave Kearney (left) celebrate after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll and Dave Kearney (left) celebrate after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll afterthe Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Ireland's Paul O'Connell lifts the 6 Nations trophy after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France
Ireland's Paul O'Connell lifts the 6 Nations trophy after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland celebrates after winning the Six Nations Championship during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France.
Captain, Paul O'Connell of Ireland and team mates celebrate with the Six Nations Championship trophy during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Brian O'Driscoll (C) of Ireland celebrates with his team-mates as they lift the trophy after winning the six nations championship with a 22-20 victory over France during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Captain, Paul O'Connell of Ireland and Brian O'Driscoll celebrate with the Six Nations Championship during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Captain, Paul O'Connell of Ireland and Brian O'Driscoll celebrate with the Six Nations Championship during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Captain, Paul O'Connell of Ireland celebrates with the Six Nations Championship during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland with Shane Horgan (L) and Ronan O'Gara after winning the Six Nations Championship during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland and team mates celebrate with the Six Nations Championship trophy during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland celebrates with the Six Nations Championship trophy during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Ireland fans show their support outside of the stadium before the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France
An Ireland fan is seen during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
A general view during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll during the National Anthems before the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland during the national anthem the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland smiles before the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland looks on before the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
France fans show their support during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Ireland fans show their support during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Francois Hollande, President of France with Albert II, Prince of Monaco during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Ireland's Jonathan Sexton dives in to score a try during the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Jonny Sexton of Ireland scores the first try during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll is tackled by France's Remi Tales during the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll during the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Ireland's Andrew Trimble dives in to score his side's second try during the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France
Dave Kearney of Ireland is tackled during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Jamie Heaslip of Ireland makes a break during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Jamie Heaslip of Ireland makes a break during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Jonny Sexton of Ireland looks on before a kick during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland runs at the french defence during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Brice Dulin of France score a try for France during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland applies an ice pack to his face during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 15: Jonny Sexton goes to kick during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Ireland's Jonathan Sexton runs in to score his second and his side's third try during the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France
Ireland's Jonathan Sexton (right) celebrates with team mate Jamie Heaslip (left) after he scores his second and their side's third try during the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland applies an ice pack to his face during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Ireland's Jonathan Sexton carried off during the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Ireland's Jonathan Sexton is stretchered off during the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.

Ireland have won the RBS 6 Nations title after beating France 22-20 in Paris, to give Brian O'Driscoll a fairytale send-off, in a thrilling final game of the tournament.

Johnny Sexton's two tries helped Brian O'Driscoll complete the fairytale ending to his international career as Ireland claimed the RBS 6 Nations title by edging out France in Paris.

Sexton ran in two tries, missed five points with the boot and was knocked out cold trying to tackle wrecking ball centre Mathieu Bastareaud.

Ireland rebuffed a late French onslaught to claim their first Six Nations title since 2009 and just a second win in 42 years in Paris, with wing Andrew Trimble also on the scoresheet.

Captain, Paul O'Connell of Ireland celebrates with the Six Nations Championship during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Captain Paul O'Connell celebrates

O'Driscoll capped his 14st and final international appearance with just a second career Six Nations title, the storybook ending so craved by the Irish nation.

To his stunning Paris hat-trick in 2000, now O'Driscoll can add a stubborn, brutal refusal to be cowed.

After 15 glittering years on the world stage, the Leinster stalwart and Ireland icon can finally hang up his international boots a happy man.

Ireland were forced to weather a hefty first-quarter storm, France blasting out firing after criticism of scrum and line-out deficiencies.

Maxime Machenaud slotted two penalty goals to nudge France into the early lead, Bastareaud blasting through the visiting backline on three occasions.

Chris Henry's cute offload outfoxed the home defence after smart build-up play, and Sexton caught sight of the half-gap to cut back inside and over the whitewash.

The former Leinster playmaker scuffed the conversion though, a straightforward effort he should have buried.

Ireland quickly doubled their try count though, thanks to another Joe Schmidt-inspired ruse.

The head coach's wily insight has proved a feature of his first Six Nations, and his nous this time led Ireland to force space around the tackle fringes.

Ireland's Paul O'Connell lifts the 6 Nations trophy after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Ireland's Paul O'Connell lifts the 6 Nations trophy after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.

Big, lumbering forwards do not enjoy working into defensive position. France stuck to their typecasting, Conor Murray blasted through the gap and sent Trimble under the sticks.

And it was O'Driscoll's straight and true drive to the gain line that set the ruse in motion.

Big, lumbering forwards love a rolling maul though, and after a textbook drive, Remi Tales chipped to the wing, Yoann Huget tapped inside at full leap and Brice Dulin had the easy run home.

Machenaud's expert touchline conversion wrestled France a 13-12 lead.

Tales tried a snap drop-goal as France built the attack after a loose high bomb from Sexton, but his effort drifted wide.

Prop Nicolas Mas, who spent the early part of the week battling with the French press, departed with a troublesome right arm complaint, replaced by Rabah Slimani.

Video: Trophy presentation

Ireland pressed again after another penalty line-out, but Sexton missed his second shot at goal of the night.

Sexton started the second half in the manner he finished the first, his risky chip easily dealt with by Gael Fickou, setting France away on a trademark counter-attack.

Ireland and Sexton had two rescuers to thank for avoiding serious censure. First Rob Kearney swept up Huget's chip in behind, then O'Connell won a vital ruck turnover penalty.

Rob Kearney again cleaned up the mess, latching onto a deft boot through the line from the French to clear, after Mike Ross' knock-on.

Sexton quickly scotched those errors and the five missed points from his, and Ireland's minds, though racing in for his second and his side's third try of the night.

When Huget failed to hold Bastareaud's pass, it was Ireland launching the counter, through that man Rob Kearney.

Trimble cut away down the right, feeding O'Driscoll, who had the presence of mind to recycle deep in the France 22.

O'Connell carried on, and Murray sent Sexton under the posts.

In one blitzkrieg swoop, suddenly Ireland were once again sure of themselves.

Ireland bullied France with their textbook maul, winning a penalty for Sexton to shoot at goal.

This time there was to be no mistake, the 28-year-old firing home with assurance renewed thanks to try number two, to put Ireland 22-13 to the good.

Video: Match highlights

France battered Ireland's final defences time and again as the hosts launched a sustained assault after a penalty line-out in the 22.

O'Connell conceded a penalty on the try-line, and France again punted for the line-out rather than shoot at goal.

Bastareaud thundered into midfield, Louis Picamoles drove to the right-hand post, and hooker Dimitri Szarzewski bundled in.

Referee Steve Walsh awarded the try, but replays suggested the Racing Metro hooker fumbled in the act of scoring.

Machenaud landed the conversion, to cut Ireland's lead to just two points.

Sexton's mixed night took another turn when he was knocked out cold trying to fell Bastareaud.

The Toulon battering ram put Sexton in the recovery position before Ireland's medical team carried him from the field by stretcher.

Heavyweight replacements Alexandre Flanquart and Sebastien Vahaamahina beefed up France's scrum, forcing a penalty as Ireland were rocketed backwards.

Jean-Marc Doussain had the chance to steal the lead from the tee, but could only shoot wide.

Damien Chouly thought he had stolen the game when he nipped into the right corner, but Vincent Debaty's pass was rightly ruled forward.

France stole Ireland's scrum, only for the visitors to win a turnover at the ruck, and spark jubilant celebrations at the final whistle.

Video: Ireland's Call

Brian O'Driscoll thrilled to sign off in style

Brian O'Driscoll expressed his joy after ending his international career by helping Ireland to glory in the RBS 6 Nations with a 22-20 victory over France in Paris on Saturday evening.

Ireland were left hanging on at the end and were grateful when Damien Chouly's last-gasp try was cancelled out for a forward pass by Vincent Debaty to ensure O'Driscoll was given the fairytale ending with a second Six Nations crown.

"It feels great to be a two-time Six Nations winner. It's great to finish on a high in my last game in this magnificent jersey," the 35-year-old centre told BBC1.

"When I do hang it up on the hook inside, it'll be with very fond memories."

"I'm absolutely delighted. There's a huge Irish contingent here. I'm glad we gave them something to shout about."

Needing just a win to ensure their first Six Nations title since 2009, Ireland went 12-6 ahead after tries from Johnny Sexton and Andrew Trimble, although they trailed 13-12 at the break following Brice Dulin's try, which was converted by Maxime Machenaud, who had earlier scored two penalties.

Ireland went ahead again following Sexton's second try of the evening, but France narrowed the deficit to two points when hooker Dimitri Szarzewski bundled in.

Their nerves were tested when Chouly crossed late on, only for his effort to be chalked off to hand Ireland glory.

"It was last-leg stuff and I know now why I'm packing it in because 80 minutes is a long bloody time at international level, particularly with guys like Mathieu Bastereaud running at you - it's no fun," O'Driscoll added.

Ireland captain Paul O'Connell was delighted he and his team could give O'Driscoll the perfect send-off.

"It's fantastic for Ireland, for the people back home but also for Brian and his family," he said after leading Ireland to just a second win in 42 years in Paris.

"To be part of the team that laid the platform for him to have a great finish to his career is great for everyone involved."

France coach Phillipe Saint-Andre admitted his devastation after watching his side fall short.

"Sometimes it's better to win ugly than to have lost like this," he said.

"Congratulations to Ireland, they played well but I think our young team did very well. If we had a little bit more of the control we should have won."

France v Ireland: Player Ratings

FRANCE:

15 BRICE DULIN: Fingertip sent Yoann Huget in for a fine try. 8/10.

14 YOANN HUGET: A constant threat on the ball. 8.

13 MATHIEU BASTAREAUD: Almost impossible to take down on the hoof. 8.

12 GAEL FICKOU: Solid Six Nations debut from the talented teenager. 7.

11 MAXIME MEDARD: Quiet night by his lofty standards. 7.

10 REMI TALES: Unable to spark the French backline with enough consistency. 7.

9 MAXIME MACHENAUD: Effortless goal-kicking, the general of Philippe Saint-Andre's side. 8.

1 THOMAS DOMINGO: Bested at the scrum by Mike Ross. 6.

2 DIMITRI SZARZEWSKI: A brutal showing from the Racing man. 8.

3 NICOLAS MAS: A frustrating night ended early by injury. 6.

4 PASCAL PAPE: French captain unable to inspire a victory. 7.

5 YOANN MAESTRI: Quiet night from the big lock. 6.

6 LOUIS PICAMOLES: Industrious effort from the flanker. 7.

7 ALEXANDRE LAPANDRY: Unable to colour the contest. 6.

8 DAMIEN CHOULY: Always a danger for the Irish. 8.

IRELAND:

15 ROB KEARNEY: Another imperious performance save Ireland's bacon several times. 8.

14 ANDREW TRIMBLE: Took his try well and had a hand in Johnny Sexton's second try to boot. 8.

13 BRIAN O'DRISCOLL: The midfield master bowed out in trademark stubborn, gritty style. 8.

12 GORDON D'ARCY: Herculean effort to keep Gael Fickou and Mathieu Bastareaud almost quiet. 8.

11 DAVE KEARNEY: Solid effort as the visitors pulled off the Six Nations title coup. 7.

10 JOHNNY SEXTON: Made sure five missed points with the boot mattered not one jot. 8.

9 CONOR MURRAY: Accuracy with pass and kick absolutely crucial to victory. 9.

1 CIAN HEALY: Rebuffed the hefty French scrum all night. 8.

2 RORY BEST: Accurate when it mattered most at the set-piece. 8.

3 MIKE ROSS: Solid night as Ireland just about got the scrum edge. 7.

4 DEVIN TONER: Made light of early smack in the face for a gritty showing. 7.

5 PAUL O'CONNELL: The captain kept Ireland calm when it mattered most. 8.

6 PETER O'MAHONY: The workhorse grafted all night to guide Ireland home. 7.

7 CHRIS HENRY: Crucial pass teed up Sexton's first try. 8.

8 JAMIE HEASLIP: Held his nerve in the face of some mammoth French forwards. 7.

Lancaster: fitting finale for Brian O'Driscoll

From Duncan Bech in Rome

England head coach Stuart Lancaster acclaimed Ireland's coronation as RBS 6 Nations champions as the perfect way to mark Brian O'Driscoll's international retirement.

A 52-11 victory over Italy at the Stadio Olimpico kept England in title contention until the Irish edged France 22-20 in a heart-stopping climax to the tournament in Paris.

Lancaster views Ireland as worthy champions and was delighted for O'Driscoll, the world's most capped player, who participated in the final Test of a stellar 15-year career.

"Credit to Ireland. They are deserved winners and it's a fitting finale and send-off for Brian O'Driscoll, a legend of the game who everyone in this squad respects massively," Lancaster said.

"We always knew this was going to be one of the tightest Six Nations and that it would go down to the wire."

England finished runners-up for a third successive year and were only beaten to a first title under Lancaster on points difference.

In the final table they trailed Ireland by only 10 points and had they beaten Italy by 11, they would have claimed Wales' crown for themselves.

Lancaster defended the decision to empty the bench at the Stadio Olimpico, with one of his predecessors as head coach, Sir Clive Woodward, claiming the replacements robbed England of their momentum.

Manu Tuilagi was brought on with just under half an hour to go, but oddly he displaced the superb Luther Burrell who had shredded Italy's defence on multiple occasions.

"I'm curious as to which substitute didn't add. Manu added. We make our decisions on what we're seeing," Lancaster said.

"We hadn't decided before the game what way we were going to go, but as the game unfolded we thought bringing Manu on at 13 in place of Luther would have the best impact.

"And Manu made a great impact when he came on. He scored a try, broke tackles, didn't make any defensive errors, turned the ball over in the last play which resulted in a try. He added value."

Man of the match Mike Brown crossed twice at the Stadio Olimpico and Owen Farrell, Jack Nowell, Mako Vunipola, Manu Tuilagi and Chris Robshaw also touched down.

The Red Rose have posted four successive victories since losing 26-24 in France on the opening day and Lancaster insists it has been a successful Championship.

"We've made huge progress. We played this game last year and won 18-11 with six penalties," he said.

"We have produced a big scoreline on the back of a Sunday game against Wales - opponents who emotionally and physically took a lot out of the players - with a team that has an average age of 24.

"We haven't got everything right in every game, but when you put everything into perspective we have made great progress.

"Our intent to attack, the quality of our defence and set-piece has been excellent.

"We are in good shape going forward, particularly with quality additions to come back into our squad who we know already are on their way back."

Italy have lost every match of their Six Nations and head coach Jacques Brunel admitted the Azzurri now face some searching questions.

"We started the tournament well, but didn't finish well, so we are behind where we want to be," Brunel said.

"We were struggling after 20 minutes and went backwards with this game.

"Now we have to ask if Italy can still be ambitious and ask what our goals should be."

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