Late Ireland slip hands France a draw
Ireland 13 France 13
Where now for these teams and their coaches? A draw was hard on Ireland and Declan Kidney, whose future still remains bleak, while France coach Philippe Saint-André must be counting his blessings.
Both sides can avoid the wooden spoon now, should the French see off Scotland in Paris next weekend, but France's ills will not be fixed over night. They lie close to home in the influence of foreign players in the Top 14 and the league's position above the national team in the hearts and minds of supporters.
However, those issues were not the main cause of their sluggishness in Dublin yesterday, where indiscipline, an absence of flair and passion and a lack of control let them down. In blustery winds and incessant drizzle which ensured no crevice in the stadium was left dry, France failed to cope with the conditions that scuppered their designs.
Ireland were bothered too by the greasy ball but crucially made fewer mistakes. The barometer for the visitors was Freddie Michalak, who simply failed to fire and missed two relatively easy kicks at goal in the first half. By contrast Ireland's Paddy Jackson nailed two monster penalties and a conversion to put his Murrayfield wobble behind him.
The hosts' lineout hummed all afternoon, a comfort they have not enjoyed during this championship, and they complemented it with the rolling maul to great effect.
An initial assault on the French line was stalled by some excellent defence after 10 minutes, but the next time Ireland looked to their one-two punch they came up with the knockout blow.
It began with a 30-metre gain off the maul on the halfway line, followed by some neat touches from Fergus McFadden and Rob Kearney. This allowed Brian O'Driscoll to nudge a grubber kick into the corner which full back Yoann Huget had no option but to kick into touch. There would be no stalled engine this time as Ireland again went to the maul where Jamie Heaslip, heavily criticised since taking over the captaincy, was there with the game's first try.
The bonus to the early score, which had a visibly draining effect on French morale, was the touchline conversion from out half Jackson, who suffered with inaccuracy off the tee in the loss to Scotland.
When the Irish lineout did stutter it allowed the French to squeeze a penalty out of Irish tighthead Mike Ross at the ensuing scrum. With a relatively easy kick at goal, Michalak skewered his effort wide.
Ireland then repelled a French maul, but coughed up a penalty from the scrum which followed. Michalak atoned to give his side their first points after 26 minutes, but again they followed up positive work with a negative reaction.
After the restart referee Steve Walsh penalised them for collapsing an Irish maul and Jackson made it two from three as he landed a monster kick from wide on the right. He repeated the feat only a minute later when Christophe Samson went off his feet at the breakdown and Jackson stretched the lead to 10.
Ireland asserted all the control while France seemed happy to soak in self-pity, offering little in attack. When Michalak did get another look at the sticks on the stroke of half time he shanked it again, which led to scrum half Morgan Parra to assume kicking duties on the 53rd minute to close the gap to seven after Ireland infringed at the scrum.
Michalak's woes continued when a spilled catch allowed Jackson to instigate the Irish choke tackle to win another turnover. Another Ulster man stood up next, Luke Marshall winning a pressure-relieving penalty close to his own 22, he then made a number of thunderous hits which took their toll and allowed Ian Madigan to earn his first cap.
The rousing assault also accounted for Brian O'Driscoll and then Louis Picamoles took advantage to score a try which Parra converted to level the scores. After Eoin Reddan was removed with a suspected broken ankle the game ended in a stalemate for the second season running.
Belfast Telegraph Digital