Ireland 22 France 26: In the aftermath of Saturday evening’s 26-22 defeat by the French in Dublin, Ireland coach Declan Kidney and captain Brian O’Driscoll insisted that a third successive Test reversal in the countdown to the World Cup was no big deal.
Contrary to what results and significant chunks of supporting evidence may now be suggesting to the rest of us, BOD and Dec continue to see cause for optimism despite a raft of mistakes.
“These are the games we want to play,” Kidney said of this tough, deliberately-chosen pre-tournament schedule. “There’s no point hiding away and challenging yourself against something (less testing) to give yourself a false lift.
“These players are big enough; they know what it takes to win. It hurts at the moment because we try to win every single game that we play. We just have to go away and learn from it to get ourselves ready for next week.”
O’Driscoll was more succinct. “This isn’t the World Cup now; so there’s certainly no panic buttons being pressed from our end,” he said.
Whilst panic won’t solve anything, genuine concern at this stage is unavoidable. It might even prove beneficial for as pathologist Lewis Thomas once noted: “Worrying is the most natural and spontaneous of all human functions. It is time to acknowledge this, perhaps even to learn to do it better.”
Certainly Ireland must learn, and very quickly. Given that they play the USA in their first Pool C match on September 11, three weeks hence the Irish may be in a position to offer some insight to Thomas’s suggestion on the value of worry. In the interim they have plenty to ponder and improve upon.
One of their principal concerns must be the form of another Tomas, O’Leary. Unimpressive against Scotland, the Munster scrum-half had a real howler on Saturday evening.
It was from his poor clearance that replacement outside-half Francois Trinh-Duc managed to drop a goal from half-way, thereby trimming Ireland’s initial lead back to 8-6 in the second quarter. Worse was to follow when O’Leary, having first fumbled Jamie Heaslip’s pick-up at the base of a scrum, panicked in tossing out an ill-advised pass in the general direction of Jonathan Sexton, only for Trinh-Duc to intercept the ball and romp away for a killer try which made it 24-8 before Morgan Parra added the extras.
Do not be deceived by the 26-22 final scoreline. The unpalatable truth of the matter is that Ireland scored two late tries when the French had already shut up shop.
It is a disagreeable fact that having gone 8-0 up in the first 10 minutes – a Sexton penalty and a Cian Healy try – after their excellent start Ireland failed to put a point on the board for over an hour.
France, in that period, scored two tries courtesy of Cedric Heymans and Trinh-Duc, with Parra converting both as well as landing three penalties. Trinh-Duc’s stunning drop-goal accounts for the balance.
In the final five minutes Sexton and Sean O’Brien scored tries, both of which were converted by Ronan O’Gara. While those may have taken the bad look off things, they cannot camouflage the reality that Ireland had a bad hour.
Indeed, O’Driscoll was somewhat closer to the mark when he said: “We showed great signs at the beginning of the game but we made some stupid errors.
“We couldn’t live with the clinical nature of them; they built the score extremely well and kicked smartly. They probably won the kicking battle and that was a huge component to the game.”
But by far the most telling comment by the captain was his parting shot.
“What you can’t do is first 15 (minutes) and last 10 and expect to win games,” he said.
Ireland were guilty of that on Saturday.
Plus points? Improved scrum and line-out, plus Stephen Ferris getting his first run since January, with all coming through intact.
And O’Brien and Andrew Trimble shone brightly on a grey Irish day.
Biggest concerns other than the nature of the defeat? The injury to Felix Jones. The unfortunate full-back looked the picture of misery as he exited the game and the World Cup.
Ireland: F Jones; A Trimble, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, K Earls; J Sexton, T O'Leary; C Healy, R Best, M Ross, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, S O'Brien, S Jenning, J Heaslip.
Replacements: J Flannery, T Court, M McCarthy, S Ferris, E Reddan, R O'Gara , L Fitzgerald.
France: C Heymans; M Medard, A Rougerie, F Estebanez, A Palisson; D Skrela, M Parra; J-B Poux, D Szarzewski, N Mas, P Pape, L Nallet (capt), F Ouedraogo, J Bonnaire, L Picamoles.
Replacements: G Guirado, F Barcella, J Pierre, R Lakafia, D Yachvili, D Marty, V Clerc.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa).